Disentangling Nativity Status, Race/Ethnicity, and Country of Origin in Predicting the School Readiness of Young Immigrant Children
The extent to which children have a basic foundation of skills needed to begin and be successful in kindergarten has become a burgeoning topic in the fields of education, developmental psychology, and child policy. This is due in large part to a body of research showing that children who begin kindergarten already behind their peers in a range of developmental competencies have a hard time “catching up” later in schooling (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2005) and are at risk for low academic achievement, grade retention, special education placement, and high school dropout (Ramey & Ramey, 1998). As has been discussed by Hernandez, Denton, and Macartney (this volume), immigrant children are quite diverse and although many live in optimal circumstances, many more live in poverty (Brandon, 2004) and face various social and institutional barriers that can present challenges to their long-term educational attainment, health, and psychological well-being (Fuligni, 1997; Leventhal, Xue, & BrooksGunn, 2006; Perreira, Chapman, & Stein, 2006). Fortunately, early education provides a promising solution; a quality preschool experience can help prepare children for kindergarten and have positive effects that last through adulthood (Campbell, Ramey, Pungello, Sparling, & Miller-Johnson, 2002; Schweinhart et al., 2004; Winsler et al., 2008). Early education can be a key factor in buffering immigrant children from adversities by affording them the opportunity to learn skills that can ease their transition to formal schooling. Though growing attention to the educational attainment of immigrant youth has encouraged numerous studies on school-aged and adolescent populations, few studies exist to date on the state of immigrant children’s development in early childhood, prior to entering formal schooling. The social sciences have only recently been able to access large early-childhood datasets with the necessary information about child and parent nativity and national origins to ask how well-prepared immigrant children are for kindergarten. Taking into account the “newness” of this area of study, the central goals of this chapter are two-fold and both relate to our own ongoing study on the school readiness of diverse, low-income, immigrant and non-immigrant children receiving subsidies to attend childcare in Miami, Florida (Winsler et al., 2008). The first goal of the chapter is to summarize the recently available literature on school readiness for immigrant children in the US, which finds that many immigrant children begin kindergarten somewhat behind their native-born peers, especially in areas like math (Crosnoe, 2007; Magnuson, Lahaie, & Waldfogel, 2006). Second, we introduce the reader to some of the valuable research on older youth
that highlights the sheer diversity of the immigrant child population (in terms of family background, generation, ethnicity, and national origins) and how this diversity is related to differences in educational outcomes. In our own study, discussed at the end of the chapter, we ask if this same heterogeneity of educational outcomes can be seen as early as the preschool age, and have found that indeed, children’s backgrounds and nativity histories do matter for early developmental competencies and school readiness. There is really no single, one-dimensional story to tell about the state of immigrant children’s educational progress, including their school readiness. Further, we find that even very young immigrant children bring with them important strengths, and our task as researchers, educators, and policy makers is to discern how best to leverage these strengths to promote their long-term academic success.