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The Face of the Undocumented Isn't Only a Star Student

Undocumented immigrants who are honor students became part of the national consciousness last month as the U.S. Congress debated but failed to pass the DREAM Act, legislation that would have given such students a path to U.S. citizenship. But a researcher from the University of Washington, Roberto G. Gonzales, has published findings that show many undocumented students aren't honor students, nor do their schools support them to do well academically.

His paper based on interviews with 78 undocumented youths, including honor students and high school dropouts, appears in a special issue of the Peabody Journal of Education that focuses on education and immigration. (Only abstracts of articles are available free online.)

Gonzales writes that "the use of the star student as the face of undocumented students, to the exclusion of other trajectories and stories, is both limited and limiting." He argues that structures in schools, even schools with primarily Latino students, track students so that some undocumented students get the help they need to graduate from high school and go to college and others don't.

Interestingly, he found that high-achieving undocumented students are more likely than struggling students to disclose their immigration status to a trusted teacher or other adult. In turn those higher-achieving students were sometimes able to use that trust with a teacher, counselor, or other mentor to seek out special resources.

Another interesting article in the special issue of the Peabody Journal features several schooling programs for immigrants in different countries that are promising, according to the researchers from New York University who wrote the article. The authors of the article—Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco, Carola Suarez-Orozco, and Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj—characterize Canada as having "some of the most progressive integration policies and wide-ranging supports available to immigrants." In the United States, on the other hand, they write, "states, local governments, and community organizations are left to respond to new arrivals with limited federal support, guidance, or oversight."

The New York University researchers describe a program for students of Francophone backgrounds enrolled in New York City public schools as a model in helping students to learn English while building on their native language. That French language heritage program is run by a partnership between the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the New York City Department of Education.

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