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April 1, 2009
Vol. 66
No. 7

Special Report / Getting Parents—and a System—On Board

Two issues often loom large in school districts these days: How can schools more effectively involve the parents of their English language learners? and How can schools deal with sudden increases in this student population? Two reports provide some answers.

Supporting Parents

The Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University and the Education and Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder have released a policy brief titled Promoting ELL Parental Involvement: Challenges in Contested Times, which discusses barriers to parental involvement—particularly "in today's anti-immigrant and English-only climate" (p. 8)—and suggests what schools can do to improve their practices in this area.
  • School-based barriers, which include a deficit perspective, a negative school climate, and a unidirectional approach to parental involvement. This latter refers to focusing only on what parents can do to support the school or support their child's academic achievement rather than on what the school can do to support families.
  • Lack of English proficiency.
  • Low parental education level, which can limit parents' ability to understand and support their child's educational development.
  • Disjunctures between school culture and home culture.
  • Logistical issues concerning transportation, parents' labor-intensive work schedules, and child care.
To effectively address these barriers, schools need to implement both traditional and nontraditional models of parental involvement. Traditional models emphasize how parents can support student achievement. Nontraditional models typically include a focus on parental empowerment and integrating community into the school curriculum.
The policy brief highlights three non-traditional programs that have heightened parental involvement among the English language learner population. These include two family literacy programs—the Intergenerational Literacy Project in Chelsea, Massachusetts, andProyecto de Literatura Infantil [Children's Literature Project] in California—as well as a nine-week parent involvement education program offered in several states by the Parent Institute for Quality Education. Children of Latino parents who graduated from this parent education program in San Diego had a 93 percent high school graduation rate, and 79.2 percent enrolled in a college or four-year university.
The policy brief urges policymakers to support programs for the parents of English language learners, implement nontraditional programs that offer reciprocal involvement by schools and parents, sponsor targeted teacher professional development, and provide community-based education to inform parents about school values and expectations and help parents become advocates for their children. To download a copy of the policy brief, go tohttp://epicpolicy.org/publication/promoting-ell-parental-involvementchallenges-contested-times.

Building Capacity Systemwide

Preparing to Serve English Language Learner Students: School Districts with Emerging English Language Learner Communities, by the Regional Educational Laboratory Appalachia, looks at how school districts in Appalachia are meeting the needs of their growing populations of English language learners. Although Spanish-speaking students constitute the majority of language learners in this region—which encompasses Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee—students' home languages also include Arabic, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Chinese, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Urdu, and Vietnamese.
The authors address the elements of the overall system needed, pointing out that the report's focus was on district adaptations in response to new English language learner populations. The report provides examples of best practices from the literature as well as school administrators' insights about effective approaches.
For example, a literature review points to studies on sheltered instruction and creating newcomer centers for adolescent immigrant students. School administrators describe their districts' experiences with pull-out programs; "push-in" programs (in which an English as a second language teacher assists in instructing students within the mainstream classroom); and team-teaching models.
  • The ad hoc response stage, in which staff members may be unsure what to do and practices vary.
  • The consistent services stage, in which staff members formalize services as the English language learner population grows or ad hoc measures fail.
  • The program development stage, in which schools experience an increased need to hire staff with specialized expertise and begin to emphasize program coordination and regular professional development.
  • The expanded perspectives stage, in which districts begin to integrate services for English language learners with the overall K–12 program.
The concept of stages is helpful because school districts can see what steps other districts have taken at a similar stage in their development as well as use the description of stages to facilitate program planning and anticipate needs. To download a copy of the report, go tohttp://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs/projects/project.asp?id=151.

Amy Azzam has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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