Occasional Paper Series

Issue 39: Supporting Young Children of Immigrants in Pre-K–3

“A Vision for Transforming Early Childhood Research and Practice for Young Children of Immigrants and Their Families”

by Fabienne Doucet and Jennifer Keys Adair

This special issue of the Occasional Paper Series describes practices and policies that can positively impact the early schooling of children of immigrants in the United States. We consider the intersectionality of young children’s lives and what needs to change in order to ensure that race, class, immigration status, gender, and dis/ability can effectively contribute to children’s experiences at school and in other instructional contexts, rather than prevent them from getting the learning experiences they need and deserve.

Our stance and challenge to the field of early childhood education as well as to the intersecting fields of child development; science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); social studies; literacy; and public health is that our work should begin with a focus on children and community capabilities rather than on perceived deficits. We believe that if educational practices and policies begin with what the child lacks, what families are not contributing, or how the community is failing, all of our work will ultimately fail to improve the lives of children and their families. Simplistic and unidimensional approaches like accelerating school readiness or increasing parent involvement place the burden of transformation on children and families. How can a three-year-old child or a newly arrived immigrant family be expected to overcome longstanding, structurally created inequities by changing themselves or conforming to society’s ever-shifting expectations, especially if those societal expectations are steeped in deficit-oriented thinking?

Recognizing the untenable ways in which interventions for immigrant children and families are typically conceived, this special issue addresses inequities, disparities, and “gaps” as institutional challenges rather than something that can be fixed by or blamed on families and children. Instead of insisting that children and families change to be successful in the U.S., we focus here on the structural changes that would make preK-3 more equitable. These changes include rethinking and/or improving dual-language programs, national and state funding, demographic labeling systems, public messaging, immigration law, multilingualism and multi-literacy programs, school environments, community engagement, curriculum and pedagogical approaches, home/school relationships, early childhood teacher education and administrator education.

Read the Full Essay Editor’s Note

Guest Editors

Jennifer Keys Adair is Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at The University of Texas at Austin. As a young scholar fellow with the Foundation of Child Development and a major grant recipient of the Spencer Foundation, she focuses on the connection between agency and discrimination in the early learning experiences of children and immigrants, particularly how systemic deficit views of families often translates into a denial of practice and experience in children’s schooling. Dr. Adair has published in a wide range of journals and news outlets. She has conducted multi-sited, video-cued ethnographic research projects in the United States, India, New Zealand, and Australia as well as throughout Europe.

Fabienne Doucet is Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education and Urban Education in the department of Teaching and Learning at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Born in Spain, raised in Haiti, and migrating to the U.S. at the age of ten, Doucet embodies a hybrid identity that is mirrored in her interdisciplinary approach to examining how immigrant and U.S.-born children of color and their families navigate education in the United States. A critical ethnographer, Doucet specifically studies how taken-for-granted beliefs, practices, and values in the U.S. educational system position linguistically, culturally, and socioeconomically diverse children and families at a disadvantage, and seeks active solutions for meeting their educational needs.