This review was prepared for the OECD Thematic Review on Migrant Education. It was presented and discussed at the Second Meeting of the Group of National Experts on the Education of Migrants in Paris on 13-14 October 2008 (doc. EDU/WKP(2009)1)

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Cultural and linguistic differences in the schools

Education plays an essential role in preparing the children of immigrants for participation in the labour market and society. Giving these children opportunities to fully develop their potential is vital for future economic growth and social cohesion in OECD countries. But migrant students in most OECD countries tend to have lower education outcomes than their native peers. Extensive previous research has described the system level, school level and individual level factors that influence the education outcomes of migrant students. Building on such previous research, this paper looks at the ways in which education policies can influence these factors to help provide better educational opportunities for migrant students.


What Works in Migrant Education? A Review of Evidence and Policy Options

(Paper attached)


 (Bottani comments)

This unclassified paper doesn’t provide any new inside in the issue of migrants children education. Migrants children education is an old problem that education systems are unable to solve for many reasons but mostly because the issue is generated within the school systems and by the school systems. 

As usually in this type of papers, the theoretical framework is week and indeed it is often missing, as it is the case for this paper too. Therefore author’s paper (Deborah Nusche) provides a list of initiatives, which proved to be effective somewhere at some conditions and a list of programmes having received the support of the educational establishment: pay more teachers, allocate more resources for migrant education (e.g. continuing to support ineffective programmes), valuing the mother language, and so on and so on. Since the 70ies educators supports these measures but problems are still there and serious evaluation are missing.

The author (Deborah Nusche) confirms this observation:

 Unfortunately, for some of the policies covered in this report, neither large-scale quantitative
studies nor experimental evidence was available
. However, many policies have been evaluated in small scale case studies, either quantitative or qualitative. Such case studies use a range of different methods, such as analyses of achievement data, participant questionnaires and interviews to understand the ways in which policies influence the learning experience of those migrant students enrolled in the case study schools. Often the conclusions from such case studies cannot be generalised beyond the particular students who experienced the policy. But they can help us understand certain processes in which these policies may play out and can suggest hypotheses for further testing

Migrants education is an equity problem and not an issue related to the nationality, to multicultural education or the educational priority area, or what so ever. The paper describes well, as it is the case for OECD papers, many innovations and experiences but doesn’t provide solid indications for generalizing an education policy empowering all kids and ending discrimination within the education systems. Indeed, it is not so easy do eliminate segretation within or between schools, but this paper doesn’t tell anything new on this problem. Nevertheless it confirms some robust points of reference. "No child left behind" is a terrific challenge for the schools and for migrants’ children and families, but many teachers, school administrators, school leaders and politicians don’t have the capacity or the willingness to understand issues at stake.


Concentration of migrant students in schools: the segregation issue


One of the key political issue of migrants children education is the concentration of migrants students in schools. This is one of the most interesting chapter of this paper. Summing up it is clear that the policy of choice is detrimental for migrants students and families.

Concentration: avoiding school ghettos


Research suggests that concentration of migrant students in schools can be detrimental to their
education outcomes.
But how to avoid this? Which are the tools available to education policies for avoiding families to choice naturally and logically the best schools, a performing school, for the children? First of all the report summarizes results produced by dozen of education studies indicating how negative is the concentration of migrants students in ghetto schools (the so called "education apartheit"). Secondly, in the the report there is a discussion on the efficacy of the free choice policy of schools without taking a clear unambiguous position on this issue, despite the amount of indications coming from the research. Report says:


Regression analyses using cross-country data from studies such as TIMMS, PIRLS
and PISA show that across OECD countries a higher degree of segregation is associated with a higher unexplained test score gap between native and migrant students (Schnepf, 2004; Scheeweis, 2006). Schnepf (2004) shows that in Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, Switzerland, the UK and the US, students in schools where migrants are overrepresented had lower performance levels than students in other schools even if students’ and schools’ socioeconomic background were held constant.

The high concentration of migrant students was found to have a negative effect on the performance of both natives and migrants in these schools. Studies from countries such as the Netherlands and Sweden confirm the negative impact of migrant concentration in schools on student performance (Karsten et al., 2006; Nordin,2006; Szulkin and Jonsson, 2007).

The concentration of migrant students in schools often reflects residential patterns. In the traditional catchment area model, students are assigned to a school in their neighbourhood. Thus, where housing is highly segregated, schools tend to be segregated as well. The schools perceived to be of better quality are often located in areas where property prices and rents are higher. Good quality schooling thus often has an implicit price in the housing market and migrant students from low socio-economic backgrounds may not have access to it (Field et al., 2007).

Freedom of choice  [1]

 No doubts: free choice is connected to a risk of increasing segregation of minority children and migrants students in schools. Free choice is not a solution to a serious problem: the empowering of all the children, the improvement of education for all. Quotation of the paper:

In addition, in countries allowing for school choice, the concentration of students along sociodemographic lines is sometimes reinforced by the choices parents make regarding the school in which they enrol their children. Research shows that native parents tend to be more likely than migrant parents to use school choice to opt out of schools with high concentration of migrants, thus reinforcing segregation between schools (Hastings et al., 2005; Rangvid, 2007b).


Reducing “native flight” [2]


This is another hot problem everywhere. Lastly in Italy where the native flight from schools receiving an high number of migrants students became at the very beginnin of this year a main story in the media [3]. What can be done for avoiding this process? iIprove the education level of all the schools, and therefore manage in a different way the education system. The author mentions this issue but instead to go further in her analysis she publicizes very well the special and nice case of Magnet School in the US.

A second strand of the literature focuses on the issue of “native flight” in schools with already high proportions of migrant students. Studies have shown that it is mostly the more well-off native families who exercise school choice. In Denmark, for example, research suggests that since public school choice was introduced in the 1990s, segregation has increased because native students tend to choose schools with fewer immigrant and low-SES students (Bloom and Diaz, 2007). Rangvid (2007b) shows that native Danes tend to "opt out" of local schools when the proportion of migrants is between 35 and 40%. In the Netherlands, according to reports by school principals, a percentage of minority pupils exceeding 50-60% causes Dutch parents to leave the school (Karsten, 1994).

To encourage native students to choose schools with diverse student populations, attractive schools with special curricula can be placed in relatively disadvantaged areas. In the US, such "magnet schools" offering special math, science or art curricula have existed since the 1970s (Heckmann, 2008).

They aim at providing high quality education in a specialised and integrated learning environment. Generally, transport is provided for children, mostly from well-off white families, to be brought to these schools outside their catchment areas. Some magnet schools in the United States were designed as desegregation tools using controlled choice student assignment plans. In this case, they consider a student’s race in the assignment process in order to balance a school’s racial diversity (Mickelson et al, 2008).




1.1 Scope and definitions
1.2 Limitations and review methodology


2.1 Reducing educational segregation

Managing school choice to avoid segregation
Reducing the negative impacts of ability grouping

2.2 Allocating resources for migrant education

Determining target groups
Ensuring efficient management of resources
Prioritising between different levels of education

2.3 Recruiting and retaining effective teachers for migrant education

Teacher quantity and class size
Paying teachers more
Hiring teachers with migration backgrounds


3.1 Language learning

An early start in language learning improves school readiness .
Integrating language and content learning
Valuing the mother language

3.2 Intercultural education

Valuing diversity in curricula and teaching materials

Changing teacher expectations

Training teachers for intercultural education

3.3 Parental involvement in schools

Bringing education into homes
Schools reaching out to parents




The thematic review on Migrants education has been launched at OECD 21-22 January 2008. Main OECD papers related to this review are on-line in the OECD web site (click here)

[1] In Italian; smantellamento del bacino d’utenza

[2] Fuga dalle scuole con troppi studenti figli di immigrati

[3] See the article published in the newspaper "La Repubblica" clicking here

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