All students perform better in math when immigrants are in the classroom, a group of researchers found.
Florencia Silveira, who received an undergraduate and master degree from Brigham Young University, and Mikaela Dufur, a professor of sociology at BYU, are two of four authors on a scholarly article that looked at how the inclusion of immigrants in classrooms help a nation’s performance on math scores.
The research tackles arguments the authors had heard that immigrant students in the classroom put a strain on resources and might lower other students’ performance. The researchers used data from 41 countries from the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment, to see if that was the case.
What they found was that while first- or second-generation immigrants perform 15 to 13 points under native-born students, increases in the immigrant population lead to academic gains.
In countries with few immigrants, the immigrants perform about 15 to 20 points below native-born students. In a country with at least 15% immigrants, native-born students and immigrants are within 10 points of each other. In countries where a quarter of the population are immigrants, all three groups perform within five points of each other.
“In other words, higher immigration is associated with a narrowing of the achievement gap between immigrants and native-born students,” the paper reads. “This narrowing of the gap, however, is not a result of decreased native-born achievement but is a result of an increase in achievement for all groups coupled with a steeper positive slope for immigrant groups relative to the slope observed for native-born students.”
They found that a 1% increase in the foreign-born population leads to a 1.2% math increase for that country’s students.
“Considering our findings, current sociopolitical narratives suggesting that international immigrants are hurting the destination countries are erroneous and misleading,” the research reads.
The immigration research started after Silveira and Dufur were already looking into the PISA data to find answers for other questions.
Silveira, who is the paper’s lead author and is working on her Ph.D. at the University of Albany, is an immigrant herself. She was born in Uruguay and lived in Spain before moving to the United States at 12.
She was surprised to see that similar research into immigrants hasn’t been conducted before.
“I didn’t really go in with any expectations because the literature I had dug up was so convoluted,” Silveira said. “No one had really explored this research question from such a macro level.”
She hopes her research will propel future projects looking into the topic on a more national level.
Dufur said the group will continue looking into the data to see if there’s similar results with literacy. The team chose math scores to begin because math is most likely to be taught uniformly across countries.
While their research didn’t look into why immigrants increase performance for everyone, Dufur suspects that it could be because immigrants’ cultural backgrounds could help make schools more competitive. Another reason could be that teachers slow down their instruction to help immigrants in their classrooms, which can help every student keep up and understand the material.
The research has made Dufur consider how to bring her own students of varying backgrounds together.
“I think it makes me even more aware of the different circumstances students bring to the classroom,” Dufur said.
She said their article joins a growing body of literature about immigrants, such as a study cited in their piece about how neighborhoods with more immigrants have lower crime levels.
“People are finding out pretty uniformly that more immigration has positive effects,” Dufur said.
Silveira hopes the results lead people to seek out facts instead of relying on assumptions and basing policy off misinformation.
“If there is one thing that this project has taught me, it is to refute conventional wisdom on the basis of it not being evidence-driven,” Silveira said.
The article, titled “The Influence of Foreign-born Population on Immigrant and Native-born Students’ Academic Achievement,” was published in the journal Socius.