On February 7th, 2017, Betsy DeVos was voted as the 11th United States Secretary of Education under Trump’s administration, against strong opposition against the nomination. Fast forward 2 months and she has begun the process of ridding states of their public school’s systems and replacing with the “school of choice” system that allows students to leave the public-school system but use their share of state funding to pay for private school, homeschooling or online education. The term of this system might initially sound positive, because who wouldn’t want the ability to “choose.” However, in the end, this system of school choice negatively affects the poor. Those who can’t afford to choose a school other than what’s closest will be left without the adequate amount of resources or diversity of people in their classrooms. And with immigrant students growing numbers in the public education system and the US lower socioeconomic class, they will be one of the first to reap the consequences of this educational system change.

The school of choice system already existed in states like Nevada and Detroit. However, just this month Governor Doug Ducey passed the legislation in Arizona, a state highly populated by immigrants. Education is a shared good that thrives on the inclusion of diverse knowledge and ideas. Individualism might be part of American culture but quality education comes from strong relationships and communities. Research shows that immigrants benefit greatly from strong mentorships and relationships in their communities that help them gain confidence and resilience against their oppression1. Immigrating to a new society can be scary, and children spend most of their time in school, making teachers an integral contributor to their development2.

Immigrant students need a step forward towards a balance of integration and inclusion where they are given the integrated space to accommodate their language acquisition needs and exposed to the diverse knowledge an inclusive classroom offers. Though some research shows that immigrant children have less internalizing problems around peers of similar background, segregation of the education system will only further decrease their academic success1. Academic achievement in immigrant student is highly dependent on resources and accommodating structures at the individual, communal and societal levels2. Immigrant youth already find themselves in racially and ethnically segregated schools, decreasing the educational resources offered to them and negatively impacting their academic achievement3.

However, with the application of school of choice, the current administration is taking a step back towards further segregation, where those who can afford to will attend school they see as more “attractive,” demographically and academically, decreasing the resources and connections immigrant students truly need. The marketization of the educational system makes it a competition. A successful market is made up of winners and losers. It is clear, that in this case immigrant children are being set up to lose.

References:

  1. Leventhal, T., & Shuey, E. A. (2014). Neighborhood context and immigrant young children’s development. Developmental Psychology, 50(6), 1771-1787
  2. Motti-Stefanidi, F., & Masten, A. S. (2013). School success and school engagement of immigrant children and adolescents: A risk and resilience developmental perspective. European Psychologist, 18(2), 126-135.
  3. Suárez-Orozco, C., Gaytán, F. X., Bang, H.J., Pakes, J., O’Connor, E., & Rhodes, J. (2010). Academic trajectories of newcomer immigrant youth. Developmental Psychology, 46(3), 602-618.