Equality of Opportunity for Immigrant Students in Italy

Equality of Opportunity for Immigrant Students in Italy

By Michela Carlana, Eliana La Ferrara, Paolo Pinotti


Summary and Key Findings


In most countries characterized by stratification in high-school tracks, children of immigrants are more likely to choose vocational over more demanding curricula than native students. In Italy, researchers offered immigrant children displaying high academic potential an innovative program that provided tutoring and career counseling. The intervention was conducted between 2013 and 2014, with the collaboration of the Italian Ministry of Education and funded by three no-profit foundations (Fondazione CARIPLO, Compagnia di San Paolo and Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Padova e Rovigo).

The study shows that gap in track choice is persistent even considering students with similar ability, as measured by standardized test scores at the end of middle school. Furthermore, it is greater for male students and it mirrors an analogous differential in failure rates and in the track recommendations received from teachers.

The program “Equality of Opportunity for Immigrant Students” was successful in reducing educational segregation: male treated students have a lower retention rate and a higher probability of attending a demanding track (as opposed to a vocational one), compared with immigrant students in control schools who started at a similar level of academic ability. The effects are in the same direction but smaller and not significant for girls. To shed light on the mechanisms underlying these effects, researchers collected data on standardized test scores and on psychological traits. Male treated students display an improvement in cognitive and non-cognitive skills (academic motivation and perceived environmental barriers). Both effects seem to have been internalized by teachers, who recommended them for a more demanding high-school. Changes in academic motivation induced by the treatment explain a sizable portion of the effect on the high-school choice, while the effect of increases in cognitive skills is negligible. Finally, the study finds evidence of positive spillovers of the intervention on immigrant peers of treated students, while there is no effect on native classmates.