Aleks points us to this article from 2011 by Julio Carabaña.
Carabaña’s article has three parts. First is a methodological point that much can be learned from a cross-national study that has data at the level of individual students, as compared to the usual “various origins-one destination” design. Second is the empirical claim, based on data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), that the test scores of immigrant students depend so much on their country of origin and so little on their country of destination. Third is their discussion of possible explanations. The explanation they favor is national differences in cognitive or learning ability.
The first point makes complete sense to me.
The second point I’m not sure of, as I’d think that much would depend on how these data are collected and analyzed. The statement, “the results of immigrant students depend so much on their country of origin and so little on their country of destination,” could be a reasonable data summary or “stylized fact,” or maybe it’s not. I’m not saying it’s wrong; I just haven’t worked through the data and analysis so I’m not making a statement about it, one way or another.
The third point I’m not so sure about, in part because it’s not clear what’s so special about national origin. The destination countries are not uniform in their test scores—that’s a key point of the paper—so it’s not clear that why makes sense to treat the origin countries in that way. Different immigrant students come from different groups in the origin countries, right? Also, if it’s correct as stated in the paper that these differences last for generations, then, the concept of an origin country doesn’t seem quite right.
Again, I’m not saying the claims in the paper are wrong, exactly; I just don’t think they’re framed as clearly as it might seem at first. Once you start talking about differences of ethnic groups within a country, the whole concept of country of origin starts to come apart.