Report: Immigrant Parents Struggle With Early Education

In order for immigrant parents in the US to access early learning programs for their children, the gap between the necessity of early childhood education and the lack of cultural, language, and systems knowledge of immigrant parents will have to be addressed and improved.  according to a recent report from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI).

Michelle Tullo of Inter Press Service writes:

With one in four young children in the United States living in an immigrant family, efforts to build trust and establish meaningful two-way communication with these families is an urgent priority,” states the report, released this week.

Last year, President Barack Obama introduced the Plan for Early Education for all Americans, focusing on five year-old children, and including  the funding of high-quality preschool for low- and moderate- level income families.  A plus for many, but demographics in the US are rapidly changing.

“Immigration for the longest time had been a five-state issue, but now it’s a 40-state issue,” Margie McHugh, one of the report’s authors, said at a briefing Monday.

The numbers paint the picture:

  • One in four children in the US have immigrant parents.
  • 45% of those children live in low-income households.
  • Their parents are twice as likely not to have graduated from high school.

“This represents a significant risk factor for many young children of immigrants,” the report states, “given that maternal educational attainment is closely linked with education outcomes for children, and parental education is closely linked with family earnings and economic well-being.”

Cuts in funding to Head Start and the end of funding for Even Start have affected immigrant families more than any other group.  There are additional programs, but they are privately funded, or have low levels of accountability.  These programs also do not have the open lines of communication with one another, which is imperative; offer limited translation; offer no parental classes; have long waiting lists; have inconvenient hours of operation; or offer no child care.

  • NPR channel WFAE adds that the MPI report is urging the following policies:
  • Better data collection to identify families’ needs
  • Education, literacy and English language classes for immigrants
  • Parent education and support

One federal program, Promise Neighborhoods, takes direct aim at these problems and is trialing near the nation’s capital.  Its four components are :

  1. Parent Promoters – who connect with about 50 immigrant families
  2. A 13-week parent and teacher class, mostly in Spanish, teaching parents how to support their children’s education.
  3. Community events which focus on building a support community for the parents.
  4. A class for teachers to help them understand the cultural and linguistic needs of their students and families.

This program, if successful,  could, eventually be expanded to the entire country.

Dara Lind, writing for Vox, says that immigrant parents have a difficult time communicating their questions and have trouble with giving teachers input about their children’s needs.  These drawbacks are sometimes keeping parents from enrolling their children in programs at all.

For example, many parents are under the mistaken opinion that they shouldn’t read to their children in their native tongue, a completely erroneous notion.

Lind states that the problem within the problem is that unauthorized immigrant parents are afraid to connect with education officials at all fearing that any engagement might get them deported. It’s an even larger dilemma when schools make these parents feel unwelcome and ask for fingerprints or legal ID’s.