that, over time and generations in the United States, reading achievement tests go up, but the number of hours spent on homework goes down, as do average grades. In a multivariate analysis of these data, he finds that time in the United States and second-generation status are connected to declining academic achievement and aspirations, net of other factors. Indeed, having one parent who was born in the United States, and having friends who are not also children of immigrants, were associated with lower grades. "Students whose parents are both immigrants outperform their counterparts whose mother or father is native-born" (Rumbaut, 1996:48).

Language

A very sensitive issue surrounding immigration is language. Although the United States does not have an official language, most public discourse is in English. Except for the very young, all immigrants arrive with language skills—in their own language. If that language is not English, or if they do not know English as a second language, the critical question is how quickly immigrants acquire English language facility. Of course, many immigrants have English skills even when they first arrive—some because English is the mother tongue in their home country, and others because, though raised in non-English-speaking countries, they have attended English language schools.

Nearly three-fifths of immigrants who arrived in the 1980s reported in the 1990 census that they spoke English well or very well (see Table 8.3). The groups with the greatest ability were immigrants from Canada, followed by those from South America, Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean. Indeed, almost all of those from countries where English is dominant reported that they speak English

TABLE 8.3 English Language Ability of Recent Immigrants, 1990 (percentage)

 

Speaks English

Continent of Origin

Well or Better

Not Well

Not at All

Europe

73.8

17.7

8.6

Asia

63.1

27.2

9.7

Canada

97.4

1.7

0.3

Mexico, Central America

26.2

31.0

41.8

Caribbean

61.1

18.2

20.6

South America

85.8

10.7

3.2

Weighted Total

57.5

26.3

16.2

 

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census (1993).



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