"The Children of Immigrant America" (Q3 1998), raises challenging questions about the future impact of America's increasing racial and ethnic diversity stemming from immigration. However, the article comes across as unduly pessimistic.
A more complete picture would cite the very positive developments on virtually all the major indices of immigrant assimilation. For example, immigrants quickly catch up with the native-born with respect to labor force participation, and are slightly more likely to be self-employed. Home ownership rates of immigrants are about the same as those of the native-born. Acquisition of English for most immigrants is quicker now than at the turn of the century. Demand for U.S. citizenship and participation in elections among immigrants is skyrocketing. Moreover, immigrants are more optimistic about the future of America than those of us born here. And a recent study by the National Immigration Forum and the Cato Institute cites immigrants' significant contributions to Social Security and Medicare, primarily because they spend most of their prime working years in the United States.
For over 300 years, immigrants have come from every corner of the globe for similar reasons to escape religious or political persecution; to flee hunger and starvation; and to make a better life for themselves and their children. They have brought with them their energy, ideas, talent, and determination, and have contributed to building a great nation. We look forward to the contributions of today's immigrants to the ongoing enterprise of nation building.
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition
In "Chasing Good Schools in Massachusetts" (Q3 1998), Katharine Bradbury and her coauthors focused on an important and timely issue Parents' school choices and the use of student test data to compare the quality of schools.
The authors show that people in the 1990s have increasingly moved into communities where schools have higher test scores. This is factually correct. But the authors imply that parents had good data and actually pored over the prior state test results to select schools and communities. Unfortunately for parents, little valuable information has been available to compare schools. Previous state test scores were not widely publicized and with good reason, since there were no uniform academic standards to base them on. Parents have been left to rely on other parents' feedback or misleading data like SAT scores, which have little to do with how effective schools are in teaching kids.
There is good news on the horizon. Schools across the country are moving, as one suburban superintendent has put it, from an "entitlement" to a "performance" system. And better data to support improvements and evaluate effectiveness are in the works. The new Massachusetts MCAS student tests are a hopeful sign for schools and parents. The tests are based on uniform academic standards for what students should know and be able to do; and, good writing is emphasized in all subjects.
We are now in a three-year transition as the state works out kinks in the tests, and schools align their curriculum to the standard and train teachers. This year's MCAS results are a baseline for improvements. In three years, when passing the tenth grade test is required for high school graduation, the value of the MCAS data, the stakes attached, and public attention should produce the impact similar programs are having in Washington, Maryland, and Texas. By then, parents will be poring over very useful data to judge school effectiveness.
Massachusetts Insight Education and Research Institute
"It's Not Quite Business as Usual" (Q3 1998) could apply to one of Massachusetts' largest "rural" areas - Cape Cod. The Cape is home to 200,000 year-round residents with some of the highest off-season unemployment rates across the state. It has to encourage entrepreneurial investment beyond the travel or vacation marketplace.
In this effort, the Cape Cod Technology Council, Inc., has enrolled over 200 technology-based and technology-dependent firms to unite in fostering technology from Plymouth to Provincetown, an area it calls "The Silicon Sandbar." It includes several publicly held firms, such as Infinium Software Co., Excel Switching Co., and Benthos, Inc., as well as smaller privately held companies, such as Communica, Inc., Onset Computer Co., CAPEInternet, and C-MAP/USA, and dozens of one- and two-person shops.
Among other projects, the Council has worked on initiatives to leverage education and skill training opportunities and, with the Chamber of Commerce, on updating the Cape's telecommunications network. The region has a way to go, however; it needs the support of off-Cape institutions, in both the public and private sectors and in the media. Without a healthy discourse among these groups, it will continue to suffer from its "just a place to vacation, golf, get married, or shop at the Christmas Tree Shop" image and its concomitant less than attractive economic consequences.
Thomas. J. Moccia,
Cape Cod Technology Council, Inc.
We welcome your letters. Send them to:
The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston,
P.O. Box 2076,
Boston, MA 02210