The Interplay Between Social and Cultural Determinants of School Effort and Success: An Investigation of Chinese-Immigrant and Second-Generation Chinese Students' Perceptions Toward School


  • *A previous version of this article was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Comparative International Education Society, March 2002, Orlando, FL. All data and coding information is available from the author for those wishing to replicate the study. The author thanks Richard Arum, Jonathan Zimmerman, Philip Hosay, Lisa Stulberg, Tracey Holland, and anonymous reviewers from Social Science Quarterly for their helpful advice and input on this project. Additionally, the author thanks Li Hua Wang and Susan Schoenbaum for their valuable research assistance.

Julia Heath Kaufman, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences in the Professions, New York University, 246 Greene St., Ste. 300, New York, NY 10003-6677


Objective. Educational research suggests that close-knit, supportive immigrant communities can encourage students' school success; however, less agreement exists about why students outside of those communities—particularly in urban areas—do not always do as well in school, even when those students perceive themselves to be working as hard as their higher-performing immigrant peers. This article explores the relationship between Chinese-immigrant and second-generation Chinese students' perceptions and social/cultural factors that influence their lives in a large urban school.

Methods. Longitudinal interviews with students, as well as observations at the school, took place from September 2000 to May 2001.

Results. Chinese immigrants in this study are motivated to work hard and value demanding teachers, difficult curriculum, and discipline more than their second-generation Chinese peers; the second-generation students talk of wanting more entertaining, knowledgeable teachers while not being willing or able to work as hard for school success.

Conclusions. These findings indicate that differences in students' perceptions of their own effort and success in school may depend greatly on the social environment in which students find themselves, as well as the culturally-driven actions available within those environments.