As More School Districts Receive Late-Arriving Immigrant and Refugee Students, Report Examines Ways in Which Instructional and Non-Instructional Supports Can Be Optimized
WASHINGTON — Foreign-born students who arrive in the United States during their secondary school years—whether as refugees, unaccompanied minors or via more typical immigration pathways—face daunting hurdles as they seek to juggle learning a new language and culture while also trying to quickly close knowledge gaps and get on track to pass the coursework required to graduate high school.
A new report from the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy explores the key challenges that U.S. middle and high schools face as they seek to meet the instructional and non-instructional needs of these students, many of whom have had interrupted formal education. While educators have long worked to develop approaches to help newcomer students, the unusual increase in the arrival of unaccompanied children in 2014–16, coupled with school accountability data that show persistent achievement lags for English Learners (ELs), has prompted a rapid evolution and expansion of approaches to supporting the success of these students.
The report, Beyond Teaching English: Supporting High School Completion by Immigrant and Refugee Students, draws upon examples of school districts that have been heavily affected by the arrival of newcomer students to analyze how they have adapted their policies and practices. Many of the insights discussed were shared in the Learning Network for Newcomer Youth Success, a National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy project that brings together practitioners from the education, physical and mental health, and social service fields to discuss common challenges and effective solutions.
“The recent experiences of school districts across the United States point to the urgent need to increase professional capacity to provide both academic and non-academic services for newcomers,” said Margie McHugh, director of the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy.
The stakes for newcomer students, their school districts and communities are high, as the report notes. For the students, the pressure to go from limited literacy to passing the coursework required to get a high school diploma can be overwhelming, particularly if it is coupled with the pressure to work to earn money for themselves and their families. If the students drop out or cannot maximize their education and earnings, the resulting loss of potential wages and talents represents a longer-term loss for themselves as well as the community in which they have settled. And for school systems, the success of these students is a mandatory component of accountability benchmarks they must meet under federal education laws.
While many school districts have set up newcomer programs that centralize instruction and additional services for these students, far more remains to be done, the report finds.
As student populations change, state and local policies evolve and academic demands shift in focus, the report recommends that school districts regularly design new services and evaluate the effectiveness of existing ones. Districts have a number of opportunities to better support newcomer students by:
- Evaluating policies and practices created on a provisional basis by teachers and administrators in response to changing needs and systematizing those that are effective
- Encouraging well-coordinated partnerships between school districts and community organizations, particularly as these organizations can be natural partners for districts with limited capacity to offer or refer students to physical and mental health, legal and housing services.
- Ensuring sufficient funding for instructional and socioemotional services for newcomer students, and that policymakers understand the value of these investments extends beyond the students themselves to the broader community
- Tracking the impact of evolving federal, state and local policies on newcomer student achievement.
“By taking such steps, school systems can help immigrant students meet their educational goals and step into the workforce on firmer footing,” writes author Julie Sugarman, an MPI policy analyst. “These efforts also hold the potential to positively impact the school environment and communities more broadly through the realization of individual potential and the social and economic integration of immigrant communities.”
# # #
The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy is a crossroads for elected officials, researchers, state and local agency managers, grassroots leaders, local service providers and others who seek to understand and respond to the challenges and opportunities today’s high rates of immigration create in local communities.