Immigration: Changing Faces in the Classroom

by Jeffrey M. Jones, Gallup Poll Managing Editor

While a majority of Americans polled in a recent Gallup study say that immigration is a good thing for the country, they're less enthusiastic about its effect on education -- more believe that immigration has made public schools in the United States worse than believe it has made them better. Such opinions may be behind proposals in some areas of the country to bar illegal immigrants from attending public schools and require that all school instruction be conducted in English. However, not all groups share these negative views: blacks tend to be more neutral than the overall population in their assessment of immigration's effects on schools, and Hispanics more positive.

The annual Gallup poll on minority relations* includes an extensive battery of questions on immigration, including a series of questions that ask Americans to rate immigration's impact on several aspects of American society. In most cases, the public believes immigration has had no effect, but in the areas of taxes, the economy and public education, more Americans believe that immigration has had a negative effect rather than a neutral or positive effect.

Forty-two percent of Americans say immigration has made the quality of public schools worse, 19% say it has made them better, and 33% say it has had little effect. The results are very similar to those from last year, when Americans were slightly more than twice as likely to say immigration made public schools worse than better.

Steve Kesel, a teacher at a Los Angeles public elementary school that is 91% Latino, 4% black, 2% white, 2% Asian and 1% Pacific Islander, disagrees. "English-speaking school children have benefited from increased immigration in the public schools," Kesel said. "Overall instruction has improved; teachers have received special training and there's better language instruction."

The opinions of men, women and non-Hispanic whites generally mirror those of the entire adult population, with more members of those groups negative rather than positive or neutral in their opinions of immigration's effect on public schools. Blacks are most likely to say that immigration has not had much of an effect on public schools (42%), but otherwise are more negative (33% say immigration has made schools worse) than positive (20% say schools are better as a result of immigration).

Hispanics, who tend to have the most positive attitude toward immigration overall, also are most likely to say that the net effect of immigration is to make the public schools better. Thirty-nine percent of Hispanics say immigration makes public schools better, 27% say they are made worse, and 28% say immigration has not had much of an effect.

Among Hispanics, 46% of those with a high school education or less are most likely to say that immigration is making the public schools better, compared to only 25% of Hispanics with at least some college education. Among college-educated Hispanics, a plurality (36%) says that immigration makes the quality of public education worse, while a nearly equal percentage (34%) say it has no effect. These educational differences are not evident in the general population, as a plurality of those at all educational levels says that immigration decreases the quality of public education.

*These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,360 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 3-9, 2002, including oversamples of 236 blacks and 263 Hispanics which are weighted to reflect their proportions in the population. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3%. For results based on the samples of blacks and Hispanics, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling error is ±7%. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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