Does Going to School with Immigrant Children Impair Learning?

As immigration continues to dominate political debates, a growing number of policymakers and citizens are concerned that the presence of immigrant children in schools may harm native children’s learning outcomes. Existing evidence on this question, however, is quite mixed. Laurent Bossavie (World Bank) aims to contribute to the discussion with a new study on learning outcomes of children who share schools with immigrants.

Prior work typically treated immigrant students as a homogeneous group, due to a lack of data on their background characteristics. The new study by Bossavie takes advantage of a unique dataset of Dutch primary schools with information on students’ duration of stay in the Netherlands. This allowed Bossavie to distinguish the effect of immigrant students who recently arrived from the impact of immigrants who have been in the country longer. Effects were estimated by comparing the outcomes of natives in cohorts with different shares of immigrants in the same school.

Bossavie describes the results as compelling. “I find that overall immigrant children have no impact on natives’ learning outcomes. When I differentiate by duration of stay, I find a small negative impact of the presence of recent immigrants on natives’ learning outcomes in Dutch language only, but the effect is quite small in magnitude. I find that immigrant children who have been in the country for at least a few years have no impact on natives.”

These findings have implications regarding the effective inclusion and assimilation of immigrant children by indicating that after only a few years in the country, when immigrant children gain greater proficiency in the local language, they do not have any adverse effect on natives’ learning outcomes.

Read the full study in The Journal of Human Resources: “The Effect of Immigration on Natives’ School Performance: Does Length of Stay in the Host Country Matter?” by Laurent Bossavie.

Laurent Bossavie (@laurentbossavie) is an Economist at the Social Protection and Jobs Department of the World Bank.