According to findings from the October issue of the American Sociological Review, money does matter in education, but not in a way lobbyists want you to believe.

The research, which looked at the mathematical literacy scores of thousands of 15-year-old immigrants to 13 Western nations from 35 different native countries, indicates that economic development and political conditions in an immigrant's home country impact the child's academic success in his or her destination country.

Despite claims that education quality is solely a funding issue, the results say that immigrant children from countries with lower levels of economic development have better scholastic performance than comparable children who emigrate from countries with higher levels of economic development.

Sociologists Mark Levels, Jaap Dronkers and Gerbert Kraaykamp find that large-scale influences such as country of origin, destination country and immigrant community play a role in educational outcomes for immigrant children in their host country.

Culture is important, they found. Children of immigrants from politically unstable countries have poorer scholastic performance compared to other immigrant children.

The authors also analyzed the impact of policies and political conditions in destination countries. In traditional immigrant-receiving countries such as Australia and New Zealand, they found that immigrant children academically outperformed their counterparts in other Western nations. The authors theorize that this may be the result of restrictive immigration policies that ensure that better qualified adults emigrate (e.g., those with employment and high levels of education), rather than a receptive climate toward immigrants or education policies designed to meet their needs.

The size and socioeconomic characteristics of immigrant communities also played a role in the academic performance of their children. Children from immigrant communities with higher socioeconomic status relative to the native population had higher scholastic performance than those from other immigrant communities. Likewise, children from large immigrant communities were more likely to perform better academically than children from smaller immigrant communities.

Data for this study came from the 2003 wave of the Project for International Student Assessment (PISA) from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the first large cross-national OECD dataset to contain information on the origin of first- and second-generation migrants. The sample was comprised of 7,403 15-year-old immigrant children from 35 different native countries living in 13 destination/host countries. Scholastic performance was based on PISA measurement of mathematical literacy scores.

Jaap Dronkers, professor of social inequality and stratification at the European University Institute in San Domenico di Fiesole, Italy, and Gerbert Kraaykamp, professor of empirical sociology at Radboud University, Nijmegen, co-authored the report with Mark Levels.