DACAmented results

Study finds DACA encourages undocumented kids to stay in school, as Congress ponders their future

Giving undocumented young people protection from deportation came with a big education bonus: It made them more likely to finish high school and enter college, according to a study released earlier this week.

It’s new evidence suggesting that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, benefits individual students as well as society as a whole — and comes as Congress continues to debate the fate of DACA recipients. Education advocates from a variety of perspectives have called for extending the program for both human rights and educational reasons.

“America is a nation that welcomes Dreamers and their many talents,” the National Education Association’s head Lily Eskelsen García said late last year. “When we embrace their contributions, the future is brighter for all of us.”

The paper, released through the National Bureau of Economic Research, examined the effects of the DACA program. Put in place by President Obama in 2012, DACA offered work permit eligibility and protection from deportation to certain undocumented immigrants who had entered the country as children. (The move was also criticized at the time as an overreach of executive power.)

DACA’s existence led to a number of benefits, the researchers find. In some cases, they appeared immediately.

High school graduation rates increased by nearly 4 percentage points among all non-citizens and nearly 11 percentage points among Hispanic students. College enrollment among Hispanic non-citizens jumped by over 7 percentage points — a more surprising finding, since DACA directly encouraged high school graduation but not college enrollment.

In addition to the academic benefits, the study also finds teenage pregnancy rates dropped and upticks in work among 17- to 29-year-olds.

“We find that these young adults … attended school and worked more, often at the same time,” write researchers Elira Kuka, Na’ama Shenhav, and Kevin Shih.

(The researchers focus on non-citizens because they do not have data on which specific students are undocumented. Non-citizens encompass students who could potentially benefit from DACA.)

The results make sense in light of the uncertainty those students faced prior to DACA, when they would have been blocked from working legally in addition to facing the stress of potential deportation.

Anecdotes back this up. Angélica Infante Green, a New York State education official, and Susana Cordova of Denver Public Schools described one student who benefitted from the program in a recent op-ed: “Take ‘Carlos,’ who graduated top of his class at Stuyvesant [High School]. Before DACA, the only opportunity Carlos had after graduation was to work for his family. Now he’s going to college and excelling academically.”

However, the study does contrast with some prior research on the topic.

Another paper found that although DACA did increase rates of GED attainment and chances of having a job, it didn’t boost rates of attending college. A different study found that DACA increased students’ likelihood of dropping out of a four-year college in favor of work, because it is a work permit program.

“The results suggest that the precarious and temporary nature of DACA creates barriers to educational investments,” that study found.

In that sense, a more permanent solution may be even more likely to lead to educational gains.

Meanwhile, after Trump’s decision last September to end DACA, effective in early March, it’s been the subject of legal wrangling. On Tuesday, a second federal judge ruled against the Trump administration’s plan to end the program. Congress has debated this issue extensively, with some Republicans wanting to tie an extension of the program to additional border security and a border wall. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has imposed a deadline for this week to hammer out a deal.

We’ll see if the latest study figures into the debate.

“In part, the controversy over this policy stems over fears that that undocumented immigrants may bring undesirable attributes to communities — for example, low levels of education and high levels of teenage births,” the researchers write. “Our findings suggest that immigration policy that includes incentives for education can lead to improvements in each of these areas of concern; a reversal of this policy may overturn those gains.”

Starting young

These 11-year-old Brooklyn students are asking New York City to do something about segregated schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Matilda and Eliza Seki, left, and their friends Noa and Benji Weiss, right, collected signatures at a district 15 meeting to discuss middle school integration efforts.

While they learned about the history of segregation, a group of Brooklyn 11-year-olds took a good look around their classrooms and realized their schools weren’t so different from the photos in their textbooks.

So Matilda and Eliza Seki paired up with their friends Noa and Benji Weiss — two sets of twins — and decided to do something about it. They launched a petition on Change.org calling on the city to integrate its schools.

“We learned about separate and equal in the civil rights movement, and that it was not equal,” Eliza said, referring to the “separate but equal” legal doctrine once used to justify segregation. “And since there are schools with people of only one race, and it’s all separated, it cannot be equal.”

Matilda and Eliza are in the sixth grade at M.S. 839, and Noa and Benji are fifth-graders at P.S. 10. They already have a bit of experience in activism, having joined the Women’s March in D.C., and helping to lead environmental clubs at their school. They hold sophisticated views for kids their age, and are aware of the hurdles ingrained in addressing school segregation.

Describing how housing patterns can tie into school quality, Benji began his thoughts by saying: “Let’s say you’re from a different culture or race and you don’t have as much money as other people do — because we still live in a racist country — and you’re in an area where the housing is cheaper but you don’t have as good schools.”

Across New York City, adults have debated how to spur integration in the country’s largest school system — and one of the most segregated. According to one recent analysis, the city’s most selective high schools enroll 84 percent white and Asian students, even though those groups make up only 30 percent of the city’s student enrollment.

But student-organized groups have also been at the forefront of a grassroots movement for more diverse schools. The work of budding advocates Matilda, Eliza, Noa and Benji caught the attention of some those groups, and they’ve now joined the ranks of Teens Take Charge and IntegrateNYC as some of the youngest members. The changes they’d like to see go beyond admissions policies, but also include a push for additional resources for underserved schools, hiring more teachers of color and curricula that reflects all students and cultures.

“We decided it was an important issue and we wanted to help fix it,” Noa said.

Matilda added: “Our schools should look like our city.”

Their schools are in District 15, where 81 percent of white students are concentrated in just three of the district’s most selective middle schools, according to an analysis by parents. The city has launched a series of public workshops to craft a new admissions model to integrate middle schools there, but these kids already have their own ideas for how to do that.

Benji, who is heading to middle school next year, said it would be “pretty good” if schools stopped picking students based on criteria such as class grades and attendance. Such “screening” contributes to segregation because of a number of factors — from which elementary schools students attend, to their parents’ ability to navigate the complicated admissions process.  

“It’s… important to learn about different peoples’ backgrounds, and religions, and cultures,” he said. “And also to make sure that all kids, no matter their race, religion or where they live can get the same, good education.”

Raised Voices

Balloons, hearts, and ‘die-ins’: How Colorado students marked National Walkout Day

Students gather at the Colorado State Capitol to protest gun violence. (Melanie Asmar)

Thousands of students across Colorado poured out of their schools Wednesday to protest gun violence and to remember 17 victims of last month’s deadly shooting in Florida. Chalkbeat’s Melanie Asmar walked with students from East High School to the Colorado State Capitol, where Gov. John Hickenlooper and Speaker of the House Cristanta Duran urged them to remain politically active.

The protests took different forms at other schools – and not everyone wanted the event to be political. There were balloon releases, voter registration drives, and public “die-ins” at major intersections. And in one Denver area school district, a surge of threats cast a pall over events.

Here’s a look at #NationalWalkoutDay from around the region.

Students at Skinner Middle School in northwest Denver marched in silent solidarity.

In Colorado, teenagers can register to vote before their 18th birthday.

At schools in the Adams 12 district north of Denver, a big uptick in threats the night before – and a warning letter from the superintendent – led many students to skip school altogether.

Students at McAuliffe International School in northeast Denver spoke with their shirts. Instead of “Thoughts & Prayers,” they asked for “Policy & Change.”

But their event was not all about politics. They formed a heart with their bodies and read the names of the dead.

At Jefferson Jr./Sr. High School, students promised to work to change school culture.

Many schools released balloons to honor the victims and found other ways to advocate for change.

Unlike some Colorado districts, St. Vrain didn’t officially condone the walkouts, but students at Longmont schools walked out anyway.

Students at Denver’s South High School have been vocal about gun violence. In a recent visit from U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, they rejected the idea that armed teachers would make them safer and demanded that lawmakers do more.

Students from one of Colorado’s KIPP charter schools used their bodies to send a message at a major intersection in west Denver.

Students of color in Denver reminded the public that gun violence is not limited to mass shootings.

Students aren’t just marching. They’re also writing their representatives. State Rep. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat, tweeted a picture of her inbox full of emails from students.

Colorado carries the legacy of the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School, where a memorial asks urgently as ever: “How have things changed; what have we learned?”