A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

School Reform and Student Diversity - September 1995

L. Implications for Policy and Practice

The preceding sections have summarized our review of the literature, presented profiles of eight exemplary schools, and drawn lessons from the in-depth fieldwork across these sites, as reported in Volume II (not available online). This section considers implications for policy and practice stemming from our findings.

The implications stem from the following context: Many schools with LEP students appear to follow practices that implicitly reflect lower expectations for LEP students in core subjects, in part deferring the teaching of challenging content until these students have mastered English. These schools tend to treat the education of LEP students as a remedial issue, assuming that LEP students must learn English before they can be expected to learn the standard curriculum designed for "mainstream" students. The exemplary schools examined in this study demonstrate that LEP students can learn challenging content in language arts, mathematics, and science, while becoming literate in English, and, further, that they can realize the high expectations for academic achievement and personal development expected of all other students. This conclusion has profound implications for policy at the federal, state, and local levels. It implies that many, perhaps most, schools with LEP students must re-examine their basic assumptions and practices in order to produce significant gains in the academic achievement of LEP students.

This section considers implications of this and other central study findings for federal, state, and local policies and practices.

Implications for Implementing Goals 2000 and IASA

Recent federal policy, as reflected in Goals 2000 and Improving America's Schools Act (IASA), shifts the federal role from a regulatory function to one of policy guidance and technical assistance. In light of the most recent Congressional debate on the federal role in education, there is considerable uncertainty about the funding available for Goals 2000, IASA, and other education initiatives. Nonetheless, whether funding comes in the form of block grants or in the manner originally prescribed in the two Acts, it is reasonable to assume that the regulatory role of the federal government will be significantly altered. In this new policy environment, it is particularly important for states and schools to look to the examples of the kind of exemplary schools studied here in order to introduce systemic change in school operations, student assessment, curriculum and instructional practices, professional development, and personnel policies that can enhance the learning of LEP and all students.

In Goals 2000 and Improving America's Schools Act, the federal government has delineated an approach to education reform that calls for comprehensive and systemic school change. We assume that the thrust of this approach will continue regardless of the outcome of the current Congressional debate. Our findings clearly show that the approach is on the right track and can benefit the education of LEP students. Goals 2000 and IASA require states to develop consolidated state plans for school reform. LEP students represent one of the target populations to be served by Title I of IASA and must be included in the state plans. The exemplary schools show that such students can learn to high academic content and performance standards, and that state plans should embody the new, and more accurate assumption that acquiring English and mastering high quality curriculum, are best done together. The technical assistance afforded in state plans should be directed toward helping teachers and school communities to develop--and adapt--successful instructional, curriculum and school reform strategies of the type used by the exemplary schools, as documented in Volume II of this series.

The new Title VII of IASA provides "Comprehensive School Grants" and "Systemwide Improvement Grants" to promote systemic change in schools and districts, respectively. The experience of the exemplary schools suggests that this direction could produce the breakthrough in dealing with LEP students that is so necessary. Our study found that a shared vision is the foundation upon which school reform rests. Consequently, districts and schools implementing these grants should begin with the notion of developing a schoolwide shared vision. The exemplary schools developed a shared vision that permeated the school culture and operations and that consisted of five dimensions--high expectations for all students; cultural validation of the diverse backgrounds of students and their parents; development of a community of learners including teachers, administrators, and parents; openness to external partners and research; and comprehensiveness of educational planning and programs for all students. These elements are illustrated in detail in Volume II. Specifically, in implementing Title I and Title VII grants, Goals 2000 and IDEA, local plans should include:

  1. high content and performance standards for LEP children consistent with the standards for all other children. Such standards may be a key to correcting the tendency of many schools to marginalize LEP students in decisions about resources and planning and thus effectively leave them out of reform efforts. However, only two of the exemplary sites used performance-based assessments systematically aligned with content standards and the language development goals for LEP students. These sites demonstrated the value of such assessments, but the limited use of performance assessments at the other sites suggests that the state and local implementation of the Acts should focus on how to provide assistance for schools to incorporate performance assessments. The new Title VII grants specifically require accountability tied to student outcomes in core content areas. Assessment of LEP students must address the needs of these students and must determine whether they are meeting the same high quality standards as other students. Insofar as content instruction is in the students' native languages, the tests of student achievement should be in these languages. This implies that student outcome assessments, aligned to the content curriculum, should be developed in non-English native languages (see Section J for a discussion of assessment).

  2. a comprehensive and schoolwide approach to school improvement that integrates LEP students into a quality education experience. The exemplary schools provide various models of how this can be started (see Volume II for details). A lesson from these sites stands out clearly: Reform has to be systemic and involve all teachers, not just the teachers working with LEP students.

  3. professional development that can help teachers learn instructional strategies and the collaborative skills needed to develop and implement a shared, schoolwide vision. These cases make it clear that improving the knowledge base and practices of staff serving linguistically and culturally diverse students requires a schoolwide commitment to developing a community of learners.

  4. parent involvement and community partnerships. Though the Acts call for such involvement, it is important to note that the exemplary schools went well beyond the standard notions of parent and community involvement and made very deliberate efforts to actively involve the parents of their LEP students. As part of their vision, they saw parents as part of the community of learners and the schools as a resource to the community. The implementation of these Acts might be strengthened if this broader concept of the role of the school in communities with LEP children could be clearly articulated, using the approaches that these and other exemplary sites have pioneered.

    Implications for Local Practice and State Policy

    The exemplary sites used the students' native language for teaching content until the students were ready to transition to instruction in English. Much is now known about underlying principles of using primary language for both content instruction and more general language development. The use of sheltered English and content-based ESL in multiple-language situations or during periods of transition to content instruction in English are also better understood. These findings and advances in practice suggest a far-reaching implication: Teachers of LEP students should have the training and experience in language acquisition to assure that they can create and deliver the educational programs appropriate to the different developmental levels of their LEP students. The states could support this essential condition in a number of ways. They could require pre-service training to include knowledge of language development and active ways of promoting it in the classroom. Further, credentials for teachers who serve LEP students could include fluency in a second language.1 The states could shift toward renewable credentials and require teachers to update their knowledge as new information about language development and second language acquisition is gained. Further, given the importance of the use of native language for learning content and meeting high standards, states and schools should provide instructional materials in students native languages that are on a par with those in the English language curriculum.

    Looking across the exemplary sites, a range of curriculum and instructional strategies were employed to engage limited-English-speaking students in learning in ways that the more traditional lecture or question-answer formats do not allow. For example, in cooperative learning settings, LEP students produced language in natural ways in order to interact with other students. Other instructional strategies such as hands-on science lessons were effective in engaging students in the curriculum. In terms of policy implications, pre-service teacher education should provide training in these effective practices, particularly so that new teachers can learn to create and work with heterogeneous groupings. The country's teacher colleges have a special responsibility to seek information about effective practices and make such empirical information part of their curriculum.

    However, the skills required for teachers to learn the techniques of engaged learning for LEP students are beyond what most teachers receive in pre-service training. Teacher instructional leaders may be best able to provide staff development for other teachers in settings having linguistic and cultural diversity. The policy challenge at local and state levels is to identify such teacher leaders and employ them as part of a deliberate and long-run strategy for the training of other teachers. Districts with high proportions of LEP students might consider this strategy and make due allowances for incorporating it as a central element in their plans for professional development in response to the planning requirements of Goals 2000 and IASA. In any event, professional development should be seen as a continuing effort that should be largely teacher-driven, linked directly to the needs of students, and should contain all the essential components of effective staff development--acquisition of new knowledge and skills, demonstrations of effective strategies, coaching, and training in becoming inquirers and evaluators.

    Another area of policy implications concerns school restructuring. School restructuring enabled the exemplary schools to design and adapt programs that best suited the needs of LEP--and all--students. The implications of this finding are significant because LEP students are often left on the margins of school restructuring efforts. To promote the inclusion of LEP students into school reform efforts, schools with a significant number of LEP students should include specific steps to:

    1. organize their units of schooling into smaller units of schooling, such as "families" and "schools-within schools," to manage the much more personalized and cooperative approaches beneficial to all students, including those learning English.

    2. reallocate their use of time to promote intensified instruction for LEP students, an expanded educational calendar, and close teacher collaboration. As Section I and Volume II show, effective programs increase the time available for instruction by using extended day and extended year programs as well as other strategies. Teacher collaboration is essential especially to maintain high content and performance standards across both classes with native language instruction and those with instruction only in English.

    3. shift decision-making and develop governance structures that include teachers, staff, parents, and community members. In particular, staff that teach LEP students and parents with LEP students should be part of site decision-making. All the exemplary sites had taken steps toward participatory decision-making, though no two sites did it the same way. States, districts, and schools should resist the temptation to think there is one right way to restructure.

    4. deliver integrated health and social services. Since LEP students often lack access to such services, it is important to build them into the fabric of school plans. Schools can address multiple needs of families and children in a variety of ways such as bringing those services onto campuses, using traditional school support staff (e.g., school nurses and school counselors) in non-traditional ways linked to community agencies, and entering into agreements with community agencies to serve students and families, by referral, at the school.

    5. develop a comprehensive program of educational excellence. In such a program, school organization, flexible time scheduling, high quality curriculum, effective instruction, teacher professional development, and appropriate student assessments all complement and reinforce each other.

    Given the shift of the federal role away from a regulatory posture, districts will necessarily have to play an active role in assuring a full and appropriate education for LEP students. The district plan under Title I--which should be congruent with their Goals 2000 plan--can become an important policy instrument to strengthen the district role. The district plan should give a powerful message: the district is committed to assuring access to a high quality curriculum for all LEP students. In particular, these district plans should address:

    1. the recruitment, professional development, and deployment of teachers and aides to provide effective instruction for LEP students;

    2. provisions for high quality instructional materials in native languages;

    3. the setting of high content and performance standards;

    4. development of assessments in native languages where appropriate to measure progress and give feedback to students, parents, and teachers;

    5. the incorporation of new immigrants into school programs;

    6. the meaningful participation of language minority parents and community members in school and district decision-making;

    7. the linkage between schools (from pre-school to high school) in the same district so that the educational programs and language support from one level of schooling to another can be aligned for LEP and former-LEP students; and

    8. the alignment of the K-12 system to career pathways to further education and/or work.

    Implications for External Partners

    The study found that, for a relatively small expenditure, direct federal support for external partners can leverage change in schools with LEP students. For example, federal support for partnership organizations developing science curriculum has had a powerful and direct impact. These and similar efforts should be expanded. External partners can also provide on-going staff development, assistance with curriculum and instruction, and coaching as teachers implement new ideas and encounter barriers. Effective external partners can also bring teachers into the larger school reform dialogue, thereby enriching school reform and enhancing the professional roles of teachers. The federal government might consider providing specific guidance for state grants under IASA that would encourage the types of external partnerships that work well for schools with LEP students, as detailed in Volume II. Similarly, the "Systemwide Improvement Grants" under Title VII might be an appropriate vehicle for districts to work with external partners in ways that enable schools to receive assistance according to their needs and their stage of reform. The federal government also might consider developing a "resource bank" of qualified technical assistance providers for schools and districts with high proportions of LEP students that would facilitate their connection with qualified providers. (Such a "resource bank" has been initiated in the School-to-Work area.)

    1 In cases where multiple languages are involved, it may not be possible to require teachers to be fluent in the native languages. Only one of our exemplary sites had a large proportion of students from a wide variety of language backgrounds. In this case, the school used various strategies to provide native language support while using Sheltered English to teach content. See Volume II for details.
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