ERIC Identifier: ED400681
Publication Date: 1996-10-00
Author: Adger, Carolyn Temple
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Language Minority Students in School Reform: The Role of
Collaboration. ERIC Digest.
Change is a constant for schools. Many factors contribute to a continuous
modification of schools' missions and services: demographic shifts; new policy,
curricula, and procedures created at the district and state levels; internal
conditions and decisions by administrators, teachers, and students. However, the
current reform movement promises to surpass previous change efforts by far.
Encompassing a variety of initiatives for fundamental change in the way schools
function to promote student success, this movement promises to affect
everyone--students and teachers, principals and superintendents, parents and
Like earlier drives for reform, the current one aims to improve students'
academic achievement. The focus is on rethinking and restructuring schools to
serve all students well (CPRE Policy Briefs, n.d.). Curriculum and instruction
are being modified to challenge and engage all students and to articulate
programs across grade levels. Central to this reform is the involvement of staff
members in decision-making. This entails changing the way practitioners relate
to each other, to administrators, to students, and to parents (Lieberman, 1995).
Traditional hierarchical structures are giving way to more collaborative
structures. The goal is to re-conceptualize and renew the school's total
operation from within so that reform is tailored to local conditions and
teachers are committed to what they have helped to craft (Weiss, 1995).
Can such fundamental change benefit all students, including those for whom
English is not the primary language? Gandara (1994) warns that "while LEP
[Limited English Proficient] and other "at risk" students are frequently cited
as justifications for why reforms are needed, they are rarely included in any
specific way in the reforms themselves" (p. 46). School reform measures hold as
much promise for English language learners as for other students--but not
without continuous, explicit attention to how these students' language skills,
cultural backgrounds, and experiences uniquely shape the school's work.
This digest focuses on educators' collaborations among themselves and with
parents in reforming schools to serve language minority students well. Examples
come from the Program in Immigrant Education, a national program funded by the
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to improve the education of immigrant students in
LEADERSHIP IN CHANGING SCHOOLS
While staff collaboration is
being emphasized, strong leadership remains crucial to the change process
(Wagner, 1994). As a culturally and linguistically diverse school works
collaboratively to refine a shared vision of excellent schooling and an
educational program that reflects it, the principal must continually advocate
for the inclusion of English language learners (Goldenberg & Sullivan, 1994;
Minicucci & Olsen, 1992). By explicitly keeping language and culture on the
reform agenda and insisting that every teacher participate in the school's
continuous improvement process, the principal can ensure sustained attention to
Reforming a school usually requires that
the whole staff or significant groups within it take stock of their practices
and devise new directions (Wagner, 1994). This may mean modifying traditional
beliefs and practices to respond more accurately to students' learning needs.
One useful mechanism for change is inquiry groups, in which teachers raise
questions about students' success in their school, gather and analyze data, and
plan responses (Joyce & Calhoun, 1995). California Tomorrow, a research,
advocacy, and technical assistance organization, has led several schools through
this process. Using data from the school districts' databases and others, they
have identified a group of students that exhibits a high failure rate and
limited progress in credit accumulation for graduation (California Tomorrow,
1995). These are immigrant students who have been in U.S. schools for some time,
are orally fluent in English, and have exited the sequence of ESL and sheltered
content courses, but are not doing well in mainstream courses. This finding has
raised a number of questions for the schools: What language and academic needs
of these students are not being addressed by the existing academic program? What
does the program need in order to serve these students better? Responding has
involved interviewing the students and their families to find out about their
school experiences, adding additional courses to assure that the transition to
mainstream courses is smoother, and monitoring this group of students closely.
The school reform literature suggests other responsive practices that schools
can tailor to their own needs and conditions (Macias & Ramos, 1995).
Teachers' inquiry may also focus on the "puzzlements" that teachers may
experience when they do not share linguistic and cultural backgrounds with their
students (Jacob, 1995, p. 451). Jacob suggests adding anthropological methods to
reflective practice, an approach that promotes practitioners' critical review of
their work (Schon, 1983). Working as anthropologists do, teachers identify a
problem in terms of their own cultural knowledge about teaching and learning,
closely observe (and perhaps record) the problematic situation over time, talk
with students and others, and collect relevant documents, such as students'
work. Analyzing data from the observations, interviews, and documents involves
locating any disjunction between the teacher's expectations and the students'
performance, developing an intervention, and monitoring its implementation by
using these same methods. Teachers taking the class "World Englishes and their
Speakers," taught by faculty from the University of Maryland Baltimore County,
used some of these techniques in case studies of students whose first language
was a variety of English not native to the United States. Analysis of recorded
interviews allowed them to pinpoint contrasts between the students' English and
their own. These insights, along with studying research about the students'
language and talking with community members from the students' country, helped
teachers to understand better the relationships among varieties of English
(Crandall, 1995). Combining a reflective perspective on school life with an
anthropological focus can inform educators' collaborative efforts to incorporate
language minority students into the school's continually evolving program
COLLABORATING BEYOND THE SCHOOL
Current views of reform
also emphasize strengthening and transforming school relationships with parents
and the community to make them more collaborative. Regardless of income or level
of education, parents can support children's education--for example, by reading
with them and talking about the text in the native language or in English. Even
when parents' own level of literacy is low, they support their children's
education when they encourage an inquiry approach to learning in the home.
Through discussion with their children about events at home and in the
community, parents can help students acquire important verbal skills that will
help them to engage in instructional discourse and to become critical readers
and consumers of information (Gandara, personal communication). Schools need to
develop partnerships with parents that allow them to identify and validate such
parental contributions to the shared task of educating students.
Thus far, the reform literature has little to say about successful
collaborations involving schools and parents in linguistically and culturally
diverse settings, despite well-known guidelines for their design: holding
meetings in the community (not just at the school); choosing leaders who are at
ease in both the school and the community; conducting meetings in the parents'
primary languages; and informing parents about substantive and realistic
contributions they can make to their children's education (Olsen, et al., 1994).
Similarly, the potential benefit of collaboration among culturally diverse
communities and schools has not yet been fully realized. Social service
organizations can be useful to both families and schools, offering health
services to families of language minority students, for example, and organizing
meetings where parents and educators exchange information. In Houston, where the
Intercultural Development Research Association has a partnership with a middle
school, a dinner event strengthened relationships among families, school staff,
and a coalition of local businesses. In Prince George's County, MD, a number of
community organizations, many affiliated with the Coalition for the Foreign
Born, have sponsored forums for immigrant students and their parents on
immigrants' legal rights concerning education and employment. At California
State University Long Beach, The Center for Language Minority Education and
Research has set up a Parent Leadership Institute that trains immigrant parents
to take a leadership role in their children's schools and work collaboratively
with school personnel to enhance school services for their children (Ramirez
& Douglas, 1988).
TIME TO RENEW
Reforming schools to serve all students,
including those who are learning English, takes time. Change has been
characterized as a process (Fullan, 1991) that is incremental (Pechman & King, 1993), chaotic, and ongoing (Fullan, 1993). None of the elements that
contribute to effective change is easily or quickly achieved. Building a
collaborative professional community with strong, committed leadership; using
teacher inquiry and reflection as vehicles for improving instruction and
professional development; and inventing and preserving connections among the
school, the parents, and the community--all of these must be seen as long-term,
California Tomorrow. (1995, September). "Immigrant students project newsletter. San Francisco, CA: Author.
CPRE Policy Briefs. (n.d.). "Putting the pieces together: Systemic school
reform." Rutgers, NJ: State University of New Jersey, Consortium for Policy
Research in Education.
Crandall, J. (1995). Reinventing (America's) schools: The role of the applied
linguist. In Alatis, J.E., & Straehle, C., (Eds.), "Georgetown University
Roundtable on Languages and Linguistics." Washington, DC: Georgetown University
Fullan, M. (1993). "Change forces: Probing the depths of educational reform."
Bristol, PA: Falmer Press.
Fullan, M. G. (1991). "The new meaning of educational change." New York:
Teachers College Press.
Gandara, P. (1994). The impact of the education reform movement on limited
English proficient students. In B. McLeod (Ed.), "Language and learning:
Educating linguistically diverse students," pp. 45-70. Albany: SUNY Press.
Goldenberg, C., & Sullivan, J. (1994). "Making change happen in a
language minority school: A search for coherence." Santa Cruz, CA: National
Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language Learning.
Jacob, E. (1995). Reflective practice and anthropology in culturally diverse
classrooms. "The Elementary School Journal, 95," 451-463.
Joyce, B., (Ed.), & Calhoun, E., (Ed.). (1995). School renewal: An
inquiry, not a formula. "Educational Leadership, 52," 51-55.
Lieberman, A. (1995). "Learning about the work of restructuring schools." New
York: Columbia University, National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools,
Macias, R., & Ramos, R. (Eds.) (1995). "Changing schools for changing
students: An anthology of research on language minorities, schools, and
society." Santa Barbara: University of California Linguistic Minority Research
Minicucci, C., & Olsen, L. (1992, Spring). "Programs for Secondary
Limited English Proficient Students: A California Study." Focus No. 5:
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Olsen, L., Chang, H., De La Rosa Salazar, D., Leong, C., Perez, Z., McClain,
G., & Raffel, L. (1994). "The unfinished journey: Restructuring schools in a
diverse society." San Francisco: California Tomorrow.
Pechman, E. M., & King, J. A. (1993). "Obstacles to restructuring:
Experience of six middle-grades schools." New York: National Center for
Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching.
Ramirez, J.D., & Douglas, D. (1988). "Language minority parents and the
school: Bridging the gap." Sacramento: California State Dept. of Education,
Office of Bilingual Bicultural Education.
Schon, D. (1983). "The reflective practitioner." New York: Basic Books.
Trueba, H. (1989). "Raising silent voices: Educating the linguistic
minorities for the 21st century." New York: Newbury House.
Wagner, T. (1994). "How schools change: Lessons from three communities."
Weiss, C. (1995). "The four 'I's' of school reform: How interests, ideology,
information, and institution affect teachers and principals. "Harvard Education
Review, 65," 571-592.