Friday, March 20, 2015

Immigration, Children, and America: The Dreams of Hispanic Youngsters

In college, my friends and I started an after school pre-k literacy program for Hispanic children.  Because Hispanic children in the United States face major obstacles standing in between them and their own dreams.  Our current immigration laws refuse to give immigrant Hispanic children citizenship and continue to break up Hispanic families.  This economically (and arguably morally) jeopardizes our nation’s promise of opportunity--our American Dream--for any child who works hard.  Here’s why.

Introduction to Academic and Economic Issues Facing Hispanic Children
Compared to all other ethnicities in the US, hispanic children have the highest high school dropout rates in the country1, and they academically underperform their white peers at every grade K-122.  Consequently, as adults these children can expect to be unemployed, earn low-incomes, and struggle as they straddle the lines between struggling and living3,4

Source of Academic and Economic Gaps
These children’s gaps in academics and economics are the result of their cognitive and noncognitive skills deficits that began in and grew larger since their early childhood4.  Their mothers, who raise them and who, on average, come from disadvantaged backgrounds with little formal schooling, know they should invest in developing their children’s skills--but they don’t know how and their children’s skill deficits reflect that lack of knowledge6

Almost half, 46%, of all Hispanic children in 2010 had mothers who had not graduated from high school (8% for Whites)--and 20% of them had mothers with an education below the 8th grade; and among immigrant Hispanic families, the percent of a Hispanic children with a mother without a high school education rises to 54%; the percent with a mother’s education below 8th grade, up to 29%! 

Unfortunately, these mothers do not read to their children as frequently as more educated mothers do; do not use and expose their children to vibrant, expansive language and vocabularies as frequently; and they do not enroll their children into high quality preschool and early childhood programs that develop their children’s skills where they, the mothers, cannot5,6.  These children lack these investments, and this lack of investment causes them to develop skills deficits that open up early in their lives, widen over time, and predict academic achievement gaps and adverse life outcomes according to their finances and health.

These children also largely live in immigrant homes where Spanish is the dominant language in the household.  This linguistic isolation makes learning in the American classroom all the more difficult, as English proficiency is a major predictor of academic success for Hispanic children5.

1.  Child defined as child aged between 0 and 8 years of age.
2.  All percentages in following statistics are taken from footnotes 5 and 6

Why Do These Gaps Matter?  The Development of and Interaction Between Cognitive and Noncognitive Skills
The first 5 years of a child’s life are critical for their success as adults in the labor market.  Within these first few years of life (and even before birth), children develop most of their cognitive and noncognitive skills that determine the rate at which they learn and the size of the positive impact that schooling has on their lives.  Cognitive skills are the “smarts” of a child.  Being able to do math problems immediately and solve equations and puzzles.  The non-cognitive skills, also termed their social and emotional skills, are their “soft skills,” their ability to motivate themselves, to be patient, to persevere, and to sit down to study for long periods of time.

According to James Heckman, University Professor at the University of Chicago, children with larger amounts of non-cognitive skills develop their cognitive skills faster.  They learn faster.  When they realize this, they in turn invest more in their non-cognitive skills too because they realize the complementary benefits of investing in both skills. This is dynamic complementarity:  it is a virtuous cycle.  And the more a child already knows, the easier it is to learn new skills!  This is self-productivity.

Simply put, a child that can study for long periods of time and remain motivated to learn is going to learn faster than another child that does not.  And the more the child continues to learn, the more the child will be willing to study longer, making learn even easier over time.  Lastly, the more a child already knows, the easier it is to learn something new!

Most importantly, there is a critical window in time in a child’s life where these skills first develop and are easiest to develop.  These are the years from birth to age 5.

The Future if We Don’t Act
As Hispanic immigration trends remain constant for the foreseeable future, as largely  disadvantaged and uneducated Hispanic mothers and families immigrate from Mexico and Central America to raise their children in the US, these children will continue to drop-out of school at the nation’s highest rates; they will continue to academically underperform;  and they will continue to struggle economically in the labor market5

This means we’re going to have high rates of poverty, violence, incarceration, high school dropouts, and civil-strife—we’ll have a big chunk of the nation living in horrible conditions; and we’ll have increasing inequality across racial and class lines that will only fuel racial and class violence.

What this all means if we do nothing:
Simply put, Hispanic families tend to be, on average, poor, uneducated, and linguistically isolated.  Families expressing these characteristics, unfortunately, provide suboptimal early childhood environments for their children causing their skills deficits which lead to adverse life outcomes, including lower educational attainment and poverty.  It is also well documented that families expressing these characteristics also express higher fertility rates: this leads to a vicious cycle of intergenerational, adverse early childhood environments and therefore intergenerational poverty.

Immigration, Children, and America
These children have dreams.  They live in the United States; they grow up under the American flag; they make friends with American children--and they are American in every way except for their parents’ immigration status (or their own). 

And 70% of them end up in only 10% of our schools, and usually they’re the worst we have. 

Instead of giving them our immigrant Founding Fathers’ promise of opportunity, we stack the odds against them.  Instead of helping their mothers get an education, we send them back to their native countries--leaving their child to grow up without a parent, without an advocate, without someone to invest in their human capital--their cognitive and noncognitive skills.

We exacerbate their skills gaps and then deride them for their poor performance in our schools and their performance in our labor markets--even though they pick our vegetables, fruits, and crops at dirt-cheap wages so we can eat them at dirt-cheap prices.

We endanger our country’s promise of opportunity for the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Why My Friends Decided to Teach
If we actually invested in our Hispanic children, kept their families together, provided education to their mothers, these children would go to college, earn higher incomes, raise their employment rates, and--instead of allegedly draining our economy--would make our economy and nation grow faster, grow more resilient, and grow closer to our Founding Fathers’ vision of our nation as the home of opportunity.

That’s why my Hispanic friends decided to teach.  Because everyday that we focused on investing in these children’s human capital--in their cognitive and noncognitive skills--the closer we get to tearing down one obstacle in front of them: their skills gap.  If we could at least tear this obstacle down, we have then gotten these children one step closer to their American Dream.  Whatever that may be for them.  To be a doctor, a mechanic, a teacher--anything. 

Because they deserve the same shot, like every child in America, at their own American Dream.


1.  United States. Institute of Education Sciences (IES), National Center for Education Statistics, US 
Department of Education. Fast Facts: Dropout Rates. US Department of Education, 
2013. Web. <>.

2.  Reardon, S. F., & Galindo, C. (2006). Patterns of Hispanic students math and English literacy test 
scores in the early elementary grades: A report to the National Task Force on Early 
Childhood Education for Hispanics. Tempe, AZ: National Task Force on Early Childhood 
Education for Hispanics. Retrieved November 28, 2007, from

3.  United States. Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor. Employment Projections:

Education and employment rates by educational attainment. Washington, DC: BLS, 2013. 

4.  Heckman, James (2008), “Schools, Skills, and Synapses,” Economic Inquiry, 46(3): 289-324.

5.  Understanding the language development and Early Education of Hispanic Children.  Eugene

Garcia and Erminda, 2012.

6.  Risley, Todd, and Betty Hart. Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young

American Children.  York, Pennsylvania: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co, 1995.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I haven't Posted. Reason? ALMas "Ayudandoles Lograr Mas"

All right, all right!  I know, I haven't posted on anything related to economics and health or education for a while.

Or like two months...

But it's only because school started and I'm working on a new project!  It's economics related and education related!

It is my baby, and the only program in my life so far--that if I start, I will be happy.

Here are a few details:

The organization, called ALMas ("Ayudandoles Lograr Mas") would gather bilingual Spanish-speakers on the University of Chicago's campus to provide pre-school ELL students (or students the school describes as academically at risk given their familial, language, and income background) of hispanic/latino descent with extra educational enrichment a focus on literacy development and access to academically and educationally rich environments of college mentors and role-models.  The program would most likely take place within a HeadStart program attached to a public school.
I've also had the honor and pleasure to meet with Molly Thayer, Director of Literacy for the UChicago's Urban Education Institute (UEI), and she gave me the UEI's commitment to train students/volunteers participating in my club to administer and teach according to the UEI’s comprehensive STEP education evaluation for students in prek-3rd grade--so that members and I can now move forward crafting an actual curriculum and materials list and exercises for the pilot-program.  Of course, we are still in the planning stages of the program with curriculum development at the forefront of our efforts right now.

And just as exciting, I just spoke with Lucy Hall, UChicago's Jumpstart Program Coordinator, and she's agreed to share with me Jumpstart's curriculum and lesson plans, as well as committed to train the core group of my volunteers on how to work within a pre-school environment with children, how to administer a structured lesson plan, and provided acces to DePaul University's Jumpstart that works with ELL students of Latino descent.

ALSO, GUESS WHAT?!  I MET DR. EUGENE GARCIA, the same researcher that I've referenced in the previous post! He was excited about my plan and introduced me to some heavy hitters within the education community working on early childhood development for Latino children.

Slowly, things are coming together to provide an environment for young DLL latino students to grow intellectually, socially, and academically through literacy development and mentorship.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Case for Early Childhood Education Programs for Latino Migrant Students

[All quoted text--the indented text--come from this research paper, Latinos and Early Education: An Account of Diversity and Family Involvement by Cuellar, Rodriquez, and Garcia of Arizona State University (Word Document).  Highlighted text are other references of information.]

Latino immigration brings the United States both amazing economic benefits, like complementing our labor force and creating jobs for Americans, and tricky public policy problems, especially within  the American public education system that struggles to appropriately respond to a new, rapid influx of non-English proficient students and their academic struggles and large (yet decreasing) high school drop out rates.

States like California are finding it difficult to cope and adapt with this influx of immigrant children, whose households are generally low-income (58%) and uneducated with "only 9.5% of young Hispanic children had a mother with a college degree."  But our public education system has to adapt and change according to these children's needs simply because

Latino children are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population; their families vary greatly, they often attend poor quality schools, and are likely to not achieve educationally as much as children from other ethnic groups.  This is in part related to the poor quality of the schools that Latino children often attend.

And most importantly and unfortunately--these students--a high proportion of them are not English proficient:

In a report using ECLS-K—the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Class of 1998-99, a nationally representative database that includes standardized test scores for children starting in kindergarten through the 5th grade, Galindo & Reardon (2006) found that half of Hispanic kindergarteners are classified as language minority students and that 30% at the beginning of Kindergarten are not considered English proficient.  This is an important fact, because English language proficiency has been documented to be a key determinant of educational success (Gandara, Rumberger, Maxwell-Jolly, & Callahan, 2003; Reardon & Galindo, 2006).
This isn't necessarily surprising considering 

Most young children of Hispanic descent come from immigrant families.  In the year 2000, 64% of these children were either immigrants themselves (first generation Americans) or were US-born children-of-immigrants (second generation American).  Of these 64%, most (88%) fit the latter category (Hernandez, 2006).

How do we continue to change the tide and increase the academic success for our fastest growing population group?  We must continue, as the authors in Cuellar, Rodriquez, and Garcia state, developing programs that teach and prepare immigrant parents not only to become but how to become involved in their children's cognitive, linguistic and therefore academic development from the beginning--between ages 0-3.  And where parents find it extra difficult to provide structure for their children and develop their abilities in the formative years, we need directed and targeted afterschool programs that focus on reading comprehension and English literacy for this relatively poor and weak-English speaking student population (I'll have a post on afterschool programs later, with statistical tables and stuff!  Wuhoo!).

We need programs that integrate the partnership between non-profits, community, and family networks--programs like the following are great:

1.  Project FLAME (Family Literacy:  Aprendiendo, Mejorando, Educando)

Based at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Project FLAME particularly focuses on improving parent involvement and academic achievemnt of "children of limited English proficient parents" teaching parents

what types of books are appropriate for the age of their children, and are encouraged to reach out in the community to access literacy materials and create at home literacy centers.  Parents are also provided with English as a second language courses and encouraged to engage in reading and writing activities with their children. Through workshops in the program parents learn the value of interacting with their children in activities such as talking, singing, and playing.  The program emphasizes on talking with children about books.  In order to improve parent-school communication, parents learn about what schools expect from their children academically and are encouraged to volunteer in their children’s classroom.  

2.  Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE)

The fundamental premise of PIQE is that low-income, recently immigrated parents to the United States need information about the dynamics of the U.S. educational system, about how to collaborate with the school and teachers, and about how to assist their children at home (PIQE, 2007).  PIQE offers this information through a program that consists of eight ninety-minute sessions in which a range of topics are discussed, including home–school collaboration, the home, motivation, and self-esteem, communication and discipline, academic standards, how the school functions, and the road to university (Chrispeels & Rivero, 2001; Chrispeels, Gonzales, & Arellano, 2004; Golan & Peterson, 2002).
What's most exciting about this program is

data from a performance evaluation that focused on the children of parents that graduated from the PIQE program in San Diego suggest that PIQE has had a bearing on school persistence, reduced the dropout rate, and increased college enrollment (Chrispeels & Gonz├ílez, 2004; Chrispeels, Gonzales, & Arellano, 2004; Vidano & Sahafi, 2004).
3.  Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY)

[HIPPY is] a free, 2-year, home-based early intervention program for 4-and 5-year-old children.  In the U.S., it is intended to provide educational enrichment to at-risk children[of limited English proficiency--aka English Language Learners (ELL)] from poor and immigrant families , increase school readiness, and foster parent involvement in their children's education
The 30-week HIPPY curriculum is an explicit, direct, instructional program.  The lessons are designed to develop a child's skills in three major areas: language development, problem solving, and sensory and perceptual discrimination 
Taught with a curriculum administered in Spanish, children enrolled in HIPPY for pre-school and kindergarten outperformed their peers in a study with a control group of students enrolled in an early childhood school that wasn't HIPPY.

Conclusion and Questions:

While we focus on teaching parents how to become involved in their children's education--specifically within the immigrant and Spanish-speaking latino community--as well providing these students the opportunity to attend higher quality schools, we must focus on pushing these children into early childhood education programs.

How do we provide these extra bilingual services at a reasonable cost?  And should we propose afterschool academic enrichment programs specifically targeted to children of lower socioeconomic statuses (SES)?  I think so.  But where do we find the funding if we don't already have it?  And what programs exist now that provide these services, and what are their affects?

I'll look into it.  This is a developing issue that I'm just beginning to explore.  But I have a somewhat personal stake in this, considering I myself am latino.  I was just fortunate enough to have two educated, motivated immigrant parents from Nicaragua who came to the United States with nothing but a dream to succeed--and ultimately for me to succeed.

I've seen the dearth of ambition caused by a dearth of opportunity within the latino-community ghettos--and I've even temporarily attended the poor quality and overcrowded schools many latino children from low SES attend.

I see myself in a lot of these latino children, I do.  And I see my parents in them as well.  If it weren't for my mother who pushed me to read when I was younger, who read to me every night, who ensured my English proficiency was high; if it weren't for the quality pre-k and kindergarten I attended in a private school in Minnesota; if it weren't for the successful acculturation to the "American" way of life and belief and pursuit of education; if it weren't for teachers who took time afterschool until 4pm to help me go over math problems and homework when I almost failed---I would never have been able to attend the University of Chicago, one of the nation's premier universities.

These children deserve better from us as a nation of collective gratitude and paying-it-forward.  They deserve to know they can do not what I've been able to do...but better.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Poverty in the United States

I'm working on my next post, and it's going to be about after-school programs and their affects on academically at-risk children with a particular focus on latino migrant children.  However, it's slowly becoming more and more detailed and complicated.  There's quite a bit of research here.  And I'd like to make it a substantive post.

In the meantime, here's this amazing piece by Paul Tough of the New York Times on urban poverty in the United States, the deepest soft-spot for President Obama.

[What we know now about poverty and how to truly reverse it (it's going to take not just money, but a lot of concentrated, directed money)]:

Americans know how to use their government to remediate a certain kind of poverty. If a family does not have enough food to eat or money to survive, we know how to issue food stamps or cut a check. But when children are growing up in a home without the kind of stability and support and order that they need to succeed in life, Americans don’t always know — and certainly don’t always agree — on what we want the government to do. We generally agree that we want the government to help increase opportunity and social mobility. But we don’t like the idea of the government meddling in the home lives of private families. And so we’re in a dilemma: the biggest factor holding back social mobility for poor children may be one we don’t have a good strategy to solve — and it may be one we don’t feel comfortable even addressing at all.
What [we] need more than anything else is an antipoverty strategy that is much more comprehensive and ambitious than what exists there today, an approach that focuses on improving outcomes for children from birth through adolescence.
[Most importantly, however:]
Obama laid out an ambitious agenda [as candidate] to do just that [fight urban poverty]. At its center was a proposal to expand the work of Geoffrey Canada and his organization, the Harlem Children’s Zone, which takes an intensive and comprehensive approach to child development in a 97-block high-poverty neighborhood in central Harlem, providing poor children with not just high-quality charter schools but also parenting programs, preschools, a medical clinic, a farmers’ market, family counseling and help with college applications. 
To reduce poverty, and provide our children with the futures they deserve--we need a 360 degree plan.  Yes, it's going to be huge.  It's going to be liberal.  It's going to be a lot of government.  But we need to do it because no one else can or will.

We need not just focus on quality schools, but the environment in which the children in these schools live in.  Why don't we get that?

As Obama said, we have to heal entire communities.  Sure, we can continue debating the question, "Where does personal responsibility end and government intervention end?"

Or, we can do something.  It's hard to be personally responsible when no one cares.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Children and Health Focus

With the advice from my economics mentor, Anya Samak, I'm going to focus this blog into a Health Economics blog with a particular emphasis on children, education, and their health.

I'm also going to translate health economics literature/research into digestible and quotable blog posts, while providing the public quick references, evidence, and new knowledge gained from the most recent research--or research I find really interesting.

I'll also try to post interesting and up to date news articles I come across relating to health, youth development and education, as well as asking questions and expressing my own opinion and ideas.

Let's see what happens.

Thanks Anya, for the recommendation.  I think this could be something really cool.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Quality Assurance Assessment Program: Michigan FY2012

Here's a little table I had to make for my internship at CHRT this summer.  I did a lot of research on this, spoke a lot of state budget officials, and hopefully it's mostly right.

For the "Revenues Collected to Date," I got that information from successfully submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request!  :]  That was cool.

Michigan's Provider Tax Structure FY2012:

(Click picture to enlarge)

International Bribery: Economically Uncool

I came across this recommended read in the New Yorker about international bribery and the arguable role it plays in economic development within nations:

Without bribes, the argument goes, it takes much longer to do anything, and you end up with less economic activity—fewer Walmarts, less trade. Seen this way, bribes grease not just palms but the very wheels of commerce...
[However,] for the firms paying the bribes, corruption is costly—not just monetarily but also in terms of time and uncertainty, since bribery requires bargaining and monitoring. Kaufmann and Wei show that businesses that paid more bribes spent more time dealing with government officials, not less, and that their cost of capital was higher, not lower. Far from greasing the wheels of commerce, bribery tends to throw sand in them."
So bribery is bad.  Who knew?  How do we combat it for sustainable economic development internationally?  Get as many countries as possible to take a stance together against corruption-facilitating practices:

Bans on bribery work best when they’re widespread; otherwise, companies start to feel competitive pressure to bribe. The problem today is that some of the biggest players in the global market, like India, don’t have laws against foreign bribery, while others, like China and Russia, have laws but little or no enforcement. A recent study by Transparency International found that Chinese and Russian companies—which, in 2010, invested a whopping hundred and twenty billion dollars abroad—were the most likely to pay bribes. It’s no wonder that there have been recent calls to roll back, or even repeal, the F.C.P.A [Foreign Corruption Practices Act]. But weakening it would only lead to an arms race of graft. The smarter strategy is to use what leverage we have—including things like membership in the O.E.C.D.—to get countries to adopt a standard [against corruption].   
We should persuade others to join us there.

But an interesting question arises.  If individuals and firms bribe to engage in business instead of going through official channels, wouldn't that mean that bribes (as perceived by the firm) must be less costly?  Or else, why would the firm dabble in bribery if it doesn't receive a higher return from engaging in business through official channels?