Seventy percent of finalists in a national science talent search competition were the children of immigrants, according to a new study by the National Foundation for American Policy. Which has led many headline writers to blare the news "Children of Immigrants are Smarter." Read down a bit further and you'll find that these 28 talented young people are either of Chinese or Indian lineage, and that 60 percent of them have parents who entered the United States with a visa reserved for highly skilled immigrants -- many to be employed as engineers or scientists. In other words, not all immigrants are equal.
Immigrants come in many shapes and forms, and this study should not be used to conclude that children of immigrants are smarter than children born of native parents in the United States. However, the strong work ethic of the vast majority of immigrants, coupled with the top-notch education of their parents, make the accomplishment of these children almost a foregone conclusion.
This is not to take away from the accomplishments of these young people, but to point out something that's been brewing in the news for quite some time: the desire in some quarters to link teacher performance to their students test scores. No matter how much experts counter there are other factors that influence students grades, the move to blame teachers for their students shortcomings is alive and well.
The study by the NFAP should give everyone pause: the common denominator these of highly achieving students was not their teachers, but their highly successful parents. Their work ethic. As Prof. Paul Thomas of Furman University writes for The New York Times, this whole emphasis on grading the teachers is diverting from the real issue: poverty. A child who's hungry cannot learn. A child whose father's worried about getting evicted from their home has more worrisome things on his mind than learning the time tables. A child whose mother barely finished high school will have a very, very difficult time going on to college. It is well known that the best predictor of a child's educational attainment is their parent's level of education. It makes one wonder why, then, all this emphasis on teachers' performance.
There are many conclusions that can be drawn from the NFAP brief, and it will be used by many in the immigration debate to bolster their own agendas. Hopefully, it will also be used to reinforce, once again, that the most important factor of academic performance is how well educated and how involved the parents of a student are.