IZA World of Labor

Immigrants in the classroom and effects on native children

Having immigrant children in the classroom may sometimes, but not always, harm educational outcomes of native children

Aarhus University, Denmark, and IZA, Germany

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Elevator pitch

Many countries are experiencing increasing inflows of immigrant students. This raises concerns that having a large share of students for whom the host country language is not their first language may have detrimental effects on the educational outcomes of native children. However, the evidence is mixed, with some studies finding negative effects, and others finding no effects. Whether higher concentrations of immigrant students have an effect on native students differs across countries according to factors such as organization of the school system and immigrants’ socio-economic background.

The share of immigrant children in schools
                        varies considerably across countries, 2009

Key findings

Pros

In some countries, test scores of native children are not affected by the presence of immigrant children in the same classroom.

Increased immigration to the US has a small but positive net effect on the high school completion rate of native children.

Immigrant children from privileged backgrounds have no detrimental effects on their native peers.

If the share of immigrant children in schools is below a certain threshold, it may not affect native children.

Cons

In most countries, a high share of immigrant children in schools leads to lower test scores of native children.

A high share of immigrant students can lead to higher dropout rates from high school and lower chances of passing exams.

Native flight from schools that have many immigrant children can amplify negative effects on native children, as native parents move their children to schools with fewer immigrant children.

Native children tend to experience more incidents of bullying when there are more immigrant children in the same classroom.

Author's main message

Recent evidence suggests that the effects of a high concentration of immigrant children on the educational outcomes of native children vary from negative to zero, depending on the country. Policymakers need to carefully consider any available evidence for their own country before implementing educational or immigration policies to address this problem. However, in most cases, the negative effects are rather small and seem to be related to disadvantaged immigrants. Thus, the effects might be remedied by improving immigrant children’s language acquisition and providing general support to all children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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Countries