Schools Struggle to Accommodate Migrant Students
By Joe Guzzardi
Regardless of how bitter the immigration argument – and the debate routinely sinks to new hostility lows – both enforcement advocates and expansionists should agree that open borders must not be allowed to disrupt public education. If an individual’s station in life prevents him from enrolling his children in private schools, then a solid public education is essential. Without proper education in the basics, the nation’s children will have a long climb toward success in adulthood.
No one can argue persuasively that the border surge, which includes hundreds of thousands of K-12 age youths, will do anything except further drag down the nation’s failing public school system. Everything in America’s public schools reflects crisis mode.
For public schools, the trend is headed in the wrong direction and tumbling freefall-style further into the abyss. Enrollment is down, and chronic absenteeism is up. Shortages abound – teachers, substitutes, bus drivers and maintenance personnel. School board meetings are battle zones that often require security to prevent fisticuffs. For 9-year-olds, math and reading test scores have plummeted to their lowest levels in decades. This is a key age for creating a strong academic foundation. Black and Hispanic students fell further behind white students. Reliance on mental health services has become more common. Violence, including shootings and sexual assaults against teachers, has escalated.
Into this chaotic cauldron, waves of migrant children have entered the U.S. from more than 100 nations, and they speak dozens of different languages and dialects in our K-12 schools. Some have never attended school, and others possess only a rudimentary understanding of how a classroom functions. Enrollments occur on a rolling basis throughout the school year. No matter how disruptive migrant enrollment is to the existing student body and to the teachers, the process is a constitutional imperative.
In June 1982, the Supreme Court issued Plyler v. Doe, a landmark decision which held that that states cannot constitutionally deny students a free public education based on their illegal immigrant status. By a 5-4 vote, the Court ruled that any fiscal resources which could be saved by excluding illegal immigrant children from public schools were far outweighed by societal harms that might be created from denying an education to unlawfully present children.
The Supreme Court has ruled, but the teachers and school administrators are the ones who must somehow impart a quality education despite the challenges that the migrants represent. And with teachers now coping with the ongoing enrollment of non-English speaking students, citizen children are at a disadvantage. When polled, a plurality of working-class, blue-collar Americans said that illegal immigration has made their local school systems worse off, a new study revealed.
The latest Rasmussen Reports survey showed that 40 percent of Americans who earn less than $30,000 felt that illegal immigration made their local schools less effective, while 41 percent of those who earned $30,000 to $50,000 reached the same conclusion.
Among working class, middle class and upper-middle class Americans, less than 10 percent say illegal immigration has made their local schools better, while 34 to 45 percent say there has not been much of an impact. In his House Judiciary Committee testimony earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) stated the obvious: public schools packed with non-English speakers are a disadvantage to citizen children eager to learn and advance. “What the Democrats have never explained is how our schools are made better by packing classrooms with non-English speaking students,” McClintock said.
Nationally, the English language learner (ELL) student population will continue to grow rapidly, the predictable consequence of an open border. The projected number of school-age immigrant children increased from 12.3 million in 2005 to 17.9 million in 2020, a total which accounted for most of the school-age population growth during the period. Most of today’s immigrant children will require ELL services.
During the 1950s, California’s public schools ranked among the nation’s best. But decades later after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, California drifted toward the bottom of the heap. One reason for the steep decline: California’s K-12 ELL enrollment is 1.1 million students. Attending to immigrant children’s special academic needs, including developing language skills, detracts from teacher time that would otherwise be allotted to citizen children. After two years of remote instruction, children need every moment to catch up and shouldn’t be required to share valuable classroom time with illegal immigrants.