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Are we helping Immigrant Children Succeed?

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How can we expect to breach the cultural and educational gap between Hispanics and Americans in the US when Hispanic students have less Access to AP courses in high school and are taught by teachers with lowers salaries and less experience?

Minority students in general also face harsher punishments and are suspended more often than American students, apparently based on “zero-tolerance” discipline policies in many schools around the United States.

Approximately 5,000 pre-schoolers were suspended at least once, and 2,500 more than once during the last school cycle. Children as young as four or five are being targeted and even reported to the police for minor infractions based on an ill-applied “zero-tolerance policy” by some limited teachers who are unable to differentiate a minor infraction from a serious violation.

Common sense has all but vanished among some educators.

According to an article first published at ThinkProgress, in Meridian, Miss., school officials determined that kids as young as five could be arrested for wearing the wrong color socks and for starting food fights based on policies that entrap students in what is known as the "school-to-prison pipeline".

This should not be happening in a country that prides itself on its defense and respect for human rights.

Some of this information was made public on Friday, March 21st, 2014, by the U.S. Department of Education, based on 49 million students in the 97,000 public schools in the 16,500 school districts in the United States.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) expressly prohibits discrimination in American schools. Its Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 clearly expresses a prohibition to discriminate based on race, color, and national origin.

So, what is happening here?

Perhaps our fascination with the disaggregation of student data based on race/ethnicity, sex, limited English proficiency, and disabilities has gone too far, and it is time to reduce both our investment and our segregationist efforts to categorize everyone based on the language they speak at home, where they were born, or on the color of their skin.

On January 8th, 2014, The U.S. Department of Justice published the remarks made by Attorney General Eric Holder on the Department of Justice and the Department of Education School Discipline Guidance Rollout at Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore. The Department’s goal is to curb “harsh, discriminatory over-punishment of school discipline violations”.

“ … As it stands, far too many students across the country are diverted from the path to success by unnecessarily harsh discipline policies and practices that exclude them from school for minor infractions. During critical years that are proven to impact a student’s later chances for success, alarming numbers of young people are suspended, expelled, or even arrested for relatively minor transgressions like school uniform violations, schoolyard fights, or showing “disrespect” by laughing in class.

“Too often, so-called “zero-tolerance” policies – however well-intentioned – make students feel unwelcome in their own schools. They disrupt the learning process. And they can have significant and lasting negative effects on the long-term well-being of our young people – increasing their likelihood of future contact with juvenile and criminal justice systems…”.

And this applies even more strongly to immigrant children in the United States.

The U.S. Department of Education has a series of online publications, such as “Helping Your Child Succeed in School”, for parents to help their children excel in school. But how can parents help their children succeed and become better members of society, when the schools themselves discriminate against them based on their ethnicity?

The ED.gov “My Child’s Academic Success” website published through ED.gov contains an excellent toolkit for Hispanic families: “Children whose first language is not English can still become excellent readers in English. Whether you do the activities suggested in Spanish or in English, you are still supporting him as he learns English language and reading skills.

“When your child first enters school, talk with his teacher. If you feel you need help in meeting with the teacher, ask a relative, neighbor or someone else in your community to join you.

“Let the teacher know what you are doing at home to strengthen your child's speaking and reading in Spanish and English. Ask the teacher for ideas. Children who can switch back and forth between languages have accomplished something special: they understand two languages. They should be encouraged in such language learning.”

Still, none of this will make any difference while teachers remain predisposed against immigrant children, and are already prepared to help them not to succeed, but to fail and become, not an asset to their host country, but a burden to the economy of the United States.

As the great American inspirational writer William Arthur Ward once said: “We can throw stones, complain about them, stumble on them, climb over them, or build with them.”

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