Immigrant Children and Urban Schools: Evidence from New York City on Segregation and its Consequences for Schooling

Ellen, I.G., O'Regan, K., Schwartz, A.E. & Stiefel, L.
Brookings-Wharton Papers on Urban Affairs,

Immigrant children represent a large and growing proportion of school children in the United States, especially in urban areas. An estimated 10.4 percent of the U.S. population is now foreign-born (the highest percentage since 1930); and in central cities, the proportion has risen to 16 percent (Lollock 2001; Schmidley and Gibson 1997). Yet we know surprisingly little about the experience or isolation levels of foreign-born students. While there is considerable research on the degree to which racial minorities are isolated in U.S. schools and on the disturbing consequences of this segregation, there is no parallel research concerning immigrants.
The goal of this paper is to begin to examine this issue, looking at evidence from New York City. In particular, we address two main questions. First, how segregated are immigrant students in New York's schools and how does that segregation vary across groups with differing language skills and from different regions of the world? Second, to the extent we do see segregation, how different are the schools attended by immigrant children (either overall or from particular regions) in terms of student characteristics, teachers, and funding levels?
New York City is an especially apt place to study immigrant students because the city's public schools educate so many immigrants, from such a broad range of countries (over 200), speaking a great diversity of languages (over 120). In addition, we have been able to assemble an extraordinarily detailed data set, which allows us to exploit the richness that New York City's student body provides.
The paper is organized as follows. In the first section we review the literature on school segregation and explore the ways in which segregation might affect immigrant students. In section two we describe our data and provide a brief statistical portrait of immigrant students in New York City. In section three, we lay out the methods and hypotheses to be explored in this paper, while in section four we present our analysis of segregation of immigrant students. Section five concludes.