Home to one-quarter of the nation’s immigrants and a top-destination for incoming refugees, California must significantly improve educational outcomes for immigrant youth if the state – and the nation – are to stay economically competitive, according to a new report.
“California’s success in integrating immigrant youth is critical not just to the state but the nation,” according to Critical Choices in Post-Recession California, released Wednesday by the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
The report calls on California state leaders to take advantage of recent reforms and a recovering economy to focus more strongly on improving the educational attainment of the growing segment of the state population, many of whom are classified as English learners. California, the report said, educates more than one-third of English learners in the nation.
“We can’t afford to leave behind such a huge part of the school population,” said Christopher Edley, a law professor and former dean at the UC Berkeley law school and former co-chair of the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission. “We have to make a moral commitment that each and every child deserves an effective instructional strategy.”
More than half of those ages 16 to 26 in California, about 3.3 million people, are first- or second-generation immigrants, according to the report, yet immigrants lag behind other groups in academic achievement.
According to the report:
- Nearly 30 percent of first-generation immigrants ages 21 to 26 in California don’t have a high school diploma, compared with 13 percent of all youth statewide.
- The four-year graduation rate of students classified as English learners is 63 percent, compared with a statewide average of 80 percent.
- Latinos – who comprised 51 percent of high school students in 2012 – lag behind other groups in attending college and obtaining college degrees: 16 percent of the state’s second-generation Latino students have at least a two-year degree, compared to 21 percent nationwide in 2009-13.
California is currently 46th in the nation in the number of adults with high school diplomas. The state will have to produce an additional 2.3 million college graduates by 2025 if it is to join the ranks of the top 10 states in the number of adults with college degrees – which are increasingly becoming a requirement for available jobs, the report said.
“If current trends persist, the underperformance of first- and second-generation immigrants could imperil the state’s future workforce competitiveness,” said the report.
Budget cuts during the recession undercut student services, resulting in teacher layoffs, a reduction in college enrollment, and severely diminished adult education services, which allowed many immigrant students to pursue language classes or receive additional support, the report said.
The recovering economy and reforms such as the new Local Control Funding Formula position the state to put a stronger focus on the needs of English learners and other immigrants, report authors said. The funding formula gives schools more discretion over how they spend their money and gives additional funding to districts with high numbers of low-income students and English language learners.
“Coming out of a historic recession, California’s education systems are at a watershed, with enormous changes underway affecting funding, governance, standards and accountability at all levels,” said report co-author Sarah Hooker, an MPI policy analyst, in a statement. “The state’s responses to the recession undercut its performance in educating immigrant youth; whether this record improves will remain in doubt unless the needs of these youth are made a more central focus of reform and accountability efforts.”