Method: The data drew from the second wave of the China Education Panel Survey (CEPS) collected in 2015, a nationally representative survey with a stratified, multistage sampling design on eighth-graders. We obtained 4,171 students in 68 schools with at least 1% of nonlocal students. Academic performance was measured by standardized test scores of three compulsory subjects (Chinese, Math, and English). The main independent variable of interest at the individual level was the legal status of students, i.e., whether the target child was a local household resident. At the family level, three major explanatory variables were measured, including the childcare provider, parents' educational expectations, and children's perceptions of stress. At the school level, we measured school rankings, school segregation, and the number of certified teachers. Stepwise linear regression and multilevel regression were conducted to examine the impacts of different factors on the academic performance of migrants.
Result: Migrant students generally perform worse than local peers; the poorer performance of migrant students is attributed to school segregation as they are disproportionally sent to designed schools with lower rankings. However, the presence of a small number of certified teachers produced substantial benefits for migrant students. Family characteristics also contribute to academic achievement significantly. Students who live with alternative caregivers (such as grandparents) showed poorer academic performance compared with those living with their biological parents. In addition to generating stress that hinders academic performance, higher expectations from parents can substantially motivate students to achieve higher performance.
Conclusion and Implications: The study extends the existing literature on migration and education by investigating the legal status of migrant children and examining how the vulnerable segment performs instead of conventional rural-urban divergence. The findings provide several policy implications. First, educational policy reform is expected to enable immigrants to achieve their long-held aspirations of upward mobility. Second, education policies should be developed further to reduce school segregation. Third, schools for migrant children should provide more resources and training for teachers to reduce migrant-based inequality. Finally, social work service organizations are expected to design and implement workshops for parents to improve family dynamics and set appropriate expectations. These implications could be extended to other countries experiencing widespread migration and concerning legal status in educational sectors.