America's schools get an "F" in their education of immigrants.
"The nation's public schools are failing the ... 2 million immigrant youth who arrived on our shores during the 1980s," concludes a new study by RAND, a nonprofit research organization.
Lorraine McDonnell and Paul Hill, who conducted the study, say big-city schools, where most immigrants cluster, are "near collapse" as thousands of new students pour into the United States.
Yet immigrant education gets little attention among policymakers in Washington, since 78 percent of the new students are concentrated in just five states - California, New York, Florida, Texas, and Illinois.
In two big-city school districts, Los Angeles and Miami, immigrant children now make up 1 of every 5 students.
The authors say the poor quality of education for immigrants could be a ticking time bomb in America's midst. They note: "Immigrant students and their urban schoolmates constitute a key segment of the country's future economic and social life. If their opportunities for a productive and satisfying life are not significantly enhanced, the consequences will be felt far beyond the five states where most immigrants now live."
Ms. McDonnell and Mr. Hill praise the efforts of big-city educators to shoulder the job of educating newcomers. But even with their best efforts, they are being overwhelmed. They say big-city school districts are burdened with growing deficits, overcrowding, shortages of qualified teachers, dilapidated buildings, and the difficulty of trying to teach children in many languages.
New York City schools, which gained 65,000 foreign-born students from April 1992, to April 1993, is reported to have children from 188 nations speaking 100 different languages.
Washington must help these schools improve "across the board," rather than deal with the problem piecemeal, the authors say. They also urge greater involvement by state and local governments, universities, and foundations in school systems with the greatest problems. Among ideas to help newcomers: Create small "schools within schools" where they can learn about American culture and gradually be integrated into regular academic courses.