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At no other time in the history of the United States has immigration, both legal and illegal, so impacted the nation’s schools and its economy.

This manuscript has been peer-reviewed, accepted, and endorsed by the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration (NCPEA) as a significant contribution to the scholarship and practice of education administration. In addition to publication in the Connexions Content Commons, this module is published in the International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation , Volume 5, Number 1 (January – March 2010). Formatted and edited in Connexions by Julia Stanka, Texas A&M University.

Upon the schoolhouse steps: immigration and education

Beverly J. Irby&Rafael Lara Alecio


At no other time in the history of the United States has immigration, both legal and illegal, so impacted the nation’s schools and its economy. During the last decade of the 20 th Century the immigrant population grew by 11.3 million, with Spanish speakers from Mexico and Latin America accounting for the largest percentage of that number, over 30% (Camarota&McArdle, 2003). By state, the percentages are even more dramatic. For example, between 1990 and 2000, in Arizona, immigrants from Mexico alone grew from 55% to 67%. In Texas, Mexicans increased from 59% to 65% of the total (Camorata&McArdle, 2003). At the school level, the number of Latinos continues to mount as evidenced in two of the nation's largest school districts--in the Houston Independent School District, there were 119,804 Latino For the purposes of this paper, we use the word, “Latino,” because for the most part, we are distinguishing the people from Mexico, Central America, South America, and Caribbean Islands. In some direct quotes the word, “Hispanic,” is used in place of “Latino.” students (60.3%) in 2007-2008 (Texas Education Agency, 2009) and in Los Angeles, there were 501,143 (73.7%) during the same period (Los Angeles Unified School District, 2009). For some of the nation's smaller school districts, the numbers also have increased. For example, in 52 school districts from a predominately rural area in East Texas, the Latino school population increased over a six year period from 1998 to 2004 by slightly more than 30% (Texas Education Agency, 2005).

The concentration of Latinos from Mexico, Central America, and Cuba is focused in 12 states: California, Texas, Illinois, Arizona, Florida, Colorado, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Louisiana, and Georgia (Camarota&McArdle, 2003). This concentration has tremendous consequences for the economy of the respective states along with the reciprocal benefits to the immigrants themselves.

Most immigrants tell the story of coming to the United States for the economic benefits. Many immigrants from Mexico are accustomed to being entrepreneurs; making a creative living in their small towns or cities working in small food kiosks or in street vending. Consequently, they come with dreams, hopes, and creative economic experiences. However, when they come, they realize it is difficult to progress rapidly. According to Garcia y Griego and Martin (2000), progress may be slow and salaries lower due to differences in age, education, income, and household size. These circumstances are a result of the tendencies of immigrant families to be larger, headed by younger adults who tend to earn lower wages, and more likely to have school-aged children. They also indicated that:

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Source:  OpenStax, Immigration in the united states and spain: considerations for educational leaders. OpenStax CNX. Jul 26, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11174/1.28
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