SOCIAL ISSUES AND EDUCATION

Integration of Immigrants Into American Society

©Fuse/Corbis/Getty ImagesThe United States has long been called “a nation of immigrants.” Today, approximately 41 million immigrants represent about 13 percent of the total U.S. population, and the U.S.-born children of immigrants represent another 12 percent.

As immigrants and their descendants become integrated into U.S. society, many aspects of their lives change, both for better and worse, according to The Integration of Immigrants Into American Society. In education, for example, despite large differences in starting points among first-generation immigrant groups, their children meet or exceed the schooling level of average native-born Americans, the report says. More than one-quarter of the foreign-born have a college education or more, and their children do exceptionally well in school. Today’s immigrants are also learning English at the same rate or faster than earlier waves of immigrants. However, the U.S. K-12 education system is ill-equipped to handle millions of English-language learners, which may stymie integration of many immigrants.

Neighborhoods with greater concentrations of immigrants have much lower rates of crime and violence than comparable nonimmigrant neighborhoods, the report says. Foreign-born men ages 18-39 are incarcerated at one-fourth the rate of native-born American men of the same age. However, in the second and third generations, crime rates increase and resemble that of the general population of native-born Americans.

The health of immigrants is noticeably better than that of native-born Americans in many areas. In comparison with native-born Americans, for example, immigrants are less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and all cancers, and they experience fewer chronic health conditions and have a longer life expectancy. Yet over time and generations, these advantages in immigrants’ health decline as they become like the native-born population. Other measures of individual and community well-being show the same pattern of converging over time to U.S. averages.

The report identifies barriers to immigrant integration that are of particular concern, such as the complicated role of legal status, which slows or prevents the integration of an estimated 11.3 million immigrants and their U.S.-citizen children.

The Academies’ study was funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, National Science Foundation, Russell Sage Foundation, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, with additional funding from the National Academy of Sciences’ Kellogg Fund.

Life Expectancy and Income

©Purestock/ThinkstockLife expectancy in the U.S. has risen significantly in recent decades, but this trend differs across segments of the population. There are significant differences in lifespans for people with relatively high earnings and more education compared with those with relatively low earnings and less education. These differences could have major implications for Social Security, Medicare, and other government programs.

Policymakers considering changes to place entitlement programs on firmer financial footing should take into account how such policy changes interact with these differential trends in life expectancy, says The Growing Gap in Life Expectancy by Income: Implications for Federal Programs and Policy Responses. The increasing gap in longevity by socio-economic status is important in itself, but it also means that high earners will increasingly collect some government benefits over more years than will lower earners, the report says.

The committee that wrote the report examined life expectancy patterns among a group of Americans born in 1930 in comparison with projections for a group born in 1960. Men born in 1930 in the highest of five earnings levels who survived to age 50 could expect to live about 82 years on average, while men born in 1960 in the same earnings brackets are projected to live an average of 89 years -- a substantial gain. In contrast, the life expectancy for men with the lowest earnings is projected to decline slightly, from 77 years old on average for men born in 1930 to 76 years old on average for men born in 1960. The projections for women show a similar pattern.

The committee analyzed several commonly proposed reform options to determine the likely impact each would have on the gap in benefits received by high and low earners. For example, raising the normal retirement age for Social Security from 67 to 70 would generate substantial savings for the Social Security system, with a 25 percent reduction in benefits received by the lowest-earning men and a 20 percent reduction for the highest-earning men. Because Social Security accounts for a larger share of total government benefits for high earners than for low earners, however, this action would proportionately reduce total lifetime benefits from all programs more for the highest earners than for the lowest -- thus modestly narrowing the gap in benefits. Looking at another option, a bigger impact would come from lowering initial benefits for the top 50 percent of earners. This would generate significant savings for the Social Security system and narrow the gap in lifetime benefits between the highest-earning and lowest-earning men by about 30 percent and for women by about 40 percent.

The Academies’ study was funded by the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Guidance for Next Generation Science Standards

©Fuse/Corbis/Getty ImagesMany states are adopting the Next Generation Science Standards to improve the quality of K-12 science and engineering education in the United States. Largely based on a 2011 Academies report, the standards outline key scientific ideas and practices that all students should learn by the time they graduate from high school. The standards represent a shift away from memorization of facts presented by teachers to student-led investigation and in-depth examination of core scientific ideas.

Achieving this vision in all science classrooms will be a major undertaking and require changes to many aspects of science education, acknowledges Guide to Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards. The guide offers practical advice to district and school leaders and teachers on necessary steps for putting the science standards into practice.

One important need is for science education leaders to clearly communicate an approach to instruction that is consistent with the standards and ensure that their practices, policies, and resource allocations support it. Teachers should develop a classroom culture that reflects this approach and make assessment part of instruction, the guide says. Comprehensive, multiyear professional development plans for teachers are also needed.

Full sequences of curriculum materials that are designed to explicitly reflect the new science standards have not yet been developed. For now, rather than rush to replace course materials, district leaders should work with teachers to revise existing curriculum materials and identify supplemental resources to support the new vision of instruction. State leaders will also need to develop new systems of assessing and monitoring student progress. State and local policies should be consistent with the standards’ goals, and officials should develop a strategy for communicating with parents and the local community about the new science standards and their implementation.

The Academies’ study was funded by the National Science Foundation, College Board, and Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

Federal Research Regulations

©Wavebreak Media/ThinkstockFor decades, federal investments in fundamental research at universities and other institutions have enabled major scientific, medical, and engineering advances that have significantly improved global health and well-being. Through government-funded teaching, mentoring, research, and scholarship, U.S. research institutions consistently attract the best talent from around the world.

The continuing expansion of federal research regulations and requirements, however, is diminishing the effectiveness of the U.S. scientific enterprise and lowering the return on federal investment in research by directing investigators’ time away from research and toward administrative matters, says Optimizing the Nation’s Investment in Academic Research: A New Regulatory Framework for the 21st Century, Part 1. The report identifies specific actions Congress, the White House, federal agencies, and research institutions should take to reduce the regulatory burden and strengthen the nation’s government-university research partnership.

Academic institutions and individual investigators often receive research funding from multiple federal agencies, but approaches to similar requirements are not harmonized across agencies, resulting in duplication of effort, multiple reporting of the same information in different formats, and multiple submissions of information on different schedules. Given the importance of regulations to the overall health of the research enterprise, the regulatory regime needs to be recalibrated so that a more sensible regulatory structure governs the conduct of federally funded research.

A new framework is needed to approach regulation in a holistic way and to create a more effective and efficient partnership between funding agencies and research institutions, the report says. It identifies a number of areas where laws, regulations, and policies could be revised and calls upon Congress to create a Research Policy Board to serve as a public-private forum for discussions related to regulation of federally funded research programs.

In addition, a stronger research partnership requires that universities demand the highest standards in institutional and individual behavior, foster a culture of integrity, and mete out appropriate sanctions when behavior deviates from ethical and professional norms, the report emphasizes.

The Academies’ study was funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institutes of Health.

S&T and International Diplomacy

U.S. Department of State, ©Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/ThinkstockAlthough the U.S. Department of State has long considered science and technology (S&T) important in foreign policy formulation and implementation, there is an overarching need to bring S&T into the mainstream of diplomacy, says Diplomacy for the 21st Century: Embedding a Culture of Science and Technology Throughout the Department of State. The report urges the agency to use S&T resources more effectively in responding to the dramatic changes in the global landscape that are determining the future of societies, states, and populations.

The State Department should more fully engage S&T capabilities in other government agencies and nongovernment organizations, upgrade S&T capabilities of U.S. embassies, and increase the stature and capabilities of department officials responsible for S&T activities. The department should also tap highly qualified S&T fellows from academia and industry for challenging assignments and call upon S&T specialists from other agencies for discrete projects.

In addition, senior officials should regularly consult with leading scientific experts from outside the government on rapidly moving developments in science and technology, and the S&T adviser to the secretary of state should have more opportunities to participate in foreign policy issues that have S&T content. The Academies’ study was funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Golden Family Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, supplemented by funds from the Academies.