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

3. Approaches to Language Development

This chapter reviews specific findings about the approach taken to language development and second language acquisition for LEP students at the exemplary sites. As discussed in the previous chapter, the language development approaches were integral to the development of effective learning environments and the restructuring of the school's operation and organization. This chapter is organized in two parts, with findings detailed within each part. The first part describes the forces that shaped the schools' approach to language development. The second part describes the LEP student program elements as they were adapted by exemplary schools.

A. Findings about Forces that Shaped the Approach to Language Development

Each exemplary school had a shared vision of its approach to language development for LEP students. The design choices made to implement each vision varied from school to school. All of the case study schools enrolled significant numbers of LEP students and created language development programs to meet their needs. Each school made program design choices in response to forces largely outside the control of the school staff. Those forces can be organized into four distinct categories: student language development needs, community demographics and preferences, district policy, and school capacity. Each factor influenced critical choices schools made in program design--how they would use the student's primary language in instruction; how they designed special strategies to accommodate newcomers; and how they designed their program to transition students into the school's mainstream environment. This part of the chapter examines these influential forces. Figure I-3.1 displays these factors and illustrates how they impacted program design.

Each school’s vision included its goals for LEP students and the nature of the program the staff wanted to create. Educating LEP students was viewed as an integral part of the school's overall goals and plan for school reform. The three exemplary middle schools, for example, built strands for LEP students with qualified staff into their house and family structures. Teachers developing new approaches to curriculum did so in both the primary language of the LEP students and in English. Staff of LEP student programs were included in schoolwide training and development activities, and participated in site decision making about the use of school resources, including time and money. The importance of the inclusiveness of the vision of exemplary schools cannot be overemphasized, for it drove many subsequent decisions about school organization, staffing, uses of time, instructional approaches and curriculum.

Finding #3.1 LEP Students’ Needs Influence Program Design. The vision and LEP student program design were influenced by the language development needs of LEP students at the school.

Exemplary schools assessed the language development needs of their students and designed their programs accordingly. Important considerations included the number of non-English primary languages spoken by the students, the pattern of immigration of recent arrivals by grade level, and the concentration of LEP students in the school.

Most of the exemplary schools were neighborhood schools whose students lived in the surrounding area. Three of the exemplary schools were magnet schools enrolling students from all over the district. One school, Horace Mann, was an academic magnet which, like the neighborhood schools, had little control over the language needs of the students who applied and were accepted.

Two schools, however, were language magnets whose language programs attracted LEP students with the same primary language. At Inter-American School, the developmental bilingual program determined the make-up of the students. The program’s target language was Spanish; English-speaking students enrolled to learn Spanish and Spanish-speaking students to learn English. The school drew students from a much larger area than the surrounding neighborhood. Similarly, the Cambridge district established a Haitian Creole language program at Graham and Parks School that attracted Haitian students from throughout the district.

The number of non-English languages represented in the student population has a profound impact on the type of language development program a school can design. Schools enrolling LEP students who speak the same language have a wider range of programmatic options than do those schools enrolling LEP students from multiple language groups. 1 Schools with a concentration of LEP students with the same primary language typically developed bilingual programs that relied on the primary language for instruction. These schools included: Del Norte Heights Elementary, Hollibrook Elementary, Linda Vista Elementary, Inter-American, Graham and Parks, and Hanshaw Middle. Horace Mann Middle School had significant numbers of Spanish speakers and Cantonese speakers and developed programs tailored to the needs of the two groups. Both programs utilized the student's primary language. Wiggs Middle School had a large concentration of Spanish speakers but chose to offer sheltered English programs, often taught by bilingual teachers who could clarify content in Spanish as needed.

Two case study schools enrolled significant number of students speaking more than one non-English primary language (Linda Vista Elementary and Hanshaw Middle School). Both of these California schools had speakers of various South East Asian languages represented in their student population. Developing a high quality program for a student population with multiple primary languages is a complex challenge. Both schools offered Sheltered English instruction to their South East Asian LEP students. Linda Vista Elementary School provided primary language support from aides fluent in Hmong, Lao, and Vietnamese, as well as from a Vietnamese bilingual teacher. See Box I-3.1 for an illustration of how Linda Vista adapted its program in response to changing school demographics.

Exemplary schools must also consider newcomer LEP students, those students who immigrated to the United States after the early elementary grades. Significant numbers of newcomers impacted the programs at several schools. Newcomers often arrive with varying levels of literacy and previous schooling. Some have gaps in their education which compound their need for language development and support as they adjust to a new cultural environment. Some students arrive with more serious issues resulting from exposure to war, extreme poverty, and political upheaval. 2 Linda Vista Elementary School, Hanshaw Middle School, Wiggs Middle School, and Graham and Parks School experienced a continuous inflow of new immigrants with varying levels of previous schooling and literacy in their primary language. Hollibrook, Del Norte, and Horace Mann schools received new immigrant students at a slower, but nonetheless steady, pace at all grade levels.

Box I-3.1

Linda Vista Responds to the Changes in the
Language Development Needs of their Students

Linda Vista’s ability to adapt their program for LEP students in response to shifts in community demographics represents a major strength of their restructuring process. When Linda Vista began its restructuring process, the Spanish-speaking LEP population was decreasing and the number of LEP students speaking different (primarily Southeast Asian) languages was on the rise. (Historically, Spanish was the dominant language of LEP students.) In response to this change in their student population, the Linda Vista staff implemented a Sheltered English program (with a native language component in Spanish, Hmong, Vietnamese, and Lao) for all LEP students. The selection of the Sheltered English model was the direct result of the dramatic shift in the languages spoken by LEP students and the declining Spanish-speaking LEP population. A few years into the restructuring, the Spanish-speaking population began to grow again and the influx of Asian immigrants began to level off. Because they once again had a critical mass of Spanish-speaking students, as well as access to Spanish-speaking bilingual teachers, the staff reinstated bilingual instruction for the Spanish-speaking LEP students while continuing to use Sheltered English instructional strategies with non-Spanish-speaking LEP students.

Finding #3.2 The design of LEP student programs was shaped by school characteristics and community preferences.

Exemplary schools considered a range of student demographic conditions in the design of their programs for LEP students. Salient demographic conditions included the percentage of LEP students enrolled at the school, their socioeconomic status, and the mobility or transiency of their families. Tables I-3.1 and I-3.2 provide an overview of demographic conditions at each of the schools. (The Appendix to this volume presents tables that compare other characteristics of the exemplary schools across the sites).

The size of the LEP population influenced the nature of language development program. The percentage of LEP students at the exemplary schools ranged from 17 percent to 67 percent. The aim of the exemplary schools was to create a language development program that was an integral part of the schoolwide program.

Student socioeconomic status also impacted language development program design. Many of the students at the exemplary schools were from economically disadvantaged families. At least 50 percent, and as high as 94 percent, of the students at each school were eligible for free or reduced price lunch. Schools educating children of poverty are faced with a set of unique challenges. Poor children may be undernourished, lack access to health care, and live in neighborhoods plagued by drugs and gangs. They are likely to have parents without much formal education and are unlikely to have access to community resources such as preschools, libraries, and museums. 3 The exemplary schools recognized that their students' educational needs had to be addressed within this larger context, so they created program elements that addressed these needs.

Another influential issue related to poverty was the mobility and transiency of LEP students. Families new to the country often lived in substandard housing as they worked to establish an economic foothold. As the families gain greater economic independence, they move on to better neighborhoods. This transiency can be disruptive both for the students and for the school program.

Parental preference played an important role in the development of programs for LEP students. In some communities served by the exemplary schools, parents of LEP students were concerned that students maintain their home language, while in other cases parents were anxious that students move into the school's mainstream as soon as possible. The exemplary schools sought out the preferences of the parents of their LEP students and worked with parents in the design of their programs.

Table I-3.1
Demographic Condition at the Elementary Grade Case Study Sites, 1993-94






Community Context

Border community, port of entry.

Low-income neighborhood
in high-income district.

Port of entry, low income.

Inner-city magnet school drawing from a variety of neighborhoods

Grade Span



pre K-6

pre K-8

Total Enrollment





Ethnicities (%)

Hispanic (91.8%)
African American (4.5%)
White (3.7%)
Hispanic (85%)
White (12%)
Southeast Asian (44%)
Hispanic (38%)
White (7%)
African American (5%)
Hispanic (69%)
White (17%)
African American (13%)






Languages (% of LEP Students)

Spanish (100%) Spanish (100%) Spanish (50%)
Hmong (22%)
Vietnamese (16%)
Lao (6%)
Spanish (100%)

% Eligible for Free or Reduced-Price Lunch


(Economically Disadvantaged)



Background of LEP Students

An estimated 6% of the LEP students were recent immigrants; the majority of the remaining students were born in the U.S. Most late arrivals were literate in Spanish.

Most families were first generation immigrants; the children were born here to Mexican parents.

Some entering LEP students were born in the US, but most were recent immigrants: either political or economic refugees.

Some entering LEP students were born in the US, but most were recent immigrants. Approximately 30% were from Mexico, 25% were from Puerto Rico; 5% were from Cuba, and 27% percent were from other Latin American countries.

Actual Attendance


97.2% (1992-93)


95% (1992-93)


Very stable

Medium to high mobility (30%)

Medium to high mobility

Stable (11.3%, 1992-93)

Table I-3.2
Demographic Conditions at the Middle Grade Case Study Sites, 1993-94






Community Context

Magnet school in urban,
but not impoverished setting

Low-income, agricultural
and service oriented economy, high unemployment, gangs

Inner-city magnet school-- mostly low income with growing middle class population

Port of entry, border
community, mostly low-

Grade Span





Total Enrollment





Ethnicities (%)

White (46%)
Black (45%)
Hispanic (5%)
Asian (4%)
Hispanic (56%)
White (26%)
Asian (11%)
African American (5%)
Hispanic (38%)
White (20%)
Chinese (14%)
African American (9%)
Filipino (6%)
Hispanic (89%)
White (10%)






Languages (% of LEP Students)

Haitian Creole (100%)

Spanish (79%)
Cambodian (10%)
Lao (5%)
Hmong (3%)
Spanish (63%)
Cantonese (23%)
Other Chinese (7%)

Spanish (100%)

% Eligible for Free or Reduced-Fee Lunch




(Free Lunch only)


(Economically Disadvantaged)

Background of LEP Students

Political refugees from Haiti

Mostly immigrants, some born in US; many children of migrant workers

Mostly immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and China; some born in US

Immigrants from Mexico; a few may have been born in US







Stable, except for new Haitian immigrants

High mobility

Very stable, trickle of new immigrants enter during the year

Medium mobility, new immigrants enter throughout the year

Finding #3.3 Impact of District and State. LEP student program design was influenced by district demographics and state policies.

Districts housing exemplary schools also played a part in the design of language development programs. Influential factors included district demographics and the impact of state policies on districts.

Demographic conditions influenced the types of support offered by the district. Districts differed in size and geographic influences--some were near the Mexican border and had large concentrations of Spanish-speaking students, while others were in areas with concentrations of immigrants from other countries. Two of the districts with exemplary schools were operating under court-ordered desegregation plans that involved parental choice of schools and curriculum-based magnet programs. (See chapter 7, The District Role in Support of Reform, for a discussion of the ways in which districts supported the exemplary schools.)

State policies expressed through the district also influenced the ways the exemplary schools designed programs for LEP students. Policies in some states supported preschool programs that targeted language minority students and supported smaller class size in classrooms with LEP students. State policies established certification requirements for teachers who taught LEP students. States also established processes for designating students as limited English proficient and redesignating them as fluent in English. Each of these state policies influenced district relations with the exemplary schools and, in turn, the ways the exemplary schools designed their programs. (For more information on the impact of state policies on the exemplary schools, see chapter 8.)

Finding #3.4 Impact of Faculty. The exemplary schools' approach to language development was shaped by school capacity, especially availability of qualified primary language fluent faculty and teachers trained in second language learning.

While most of the forces described above are outside the control of the school staff, such as the number of LEP students and the pace of immigration, one important factor is somewhat under their control. That factor is the availability of qualified teachers who speak the language of the LEP students and are trained in second language acquisition.

The availability of faculty trained to provide native language instruction, to support the language development needs of LEP students, and to create an environment that supported the culture of their students significantly influenced the design of the language development program. Qualified faculty are a necessary condition for offering a high quality language development program. The case study schools and their districts invested a great deal of effort to ensure that appropriate staff were available to provide instruction. Due to its importance to program implementation, appropriately qualified faculty was a criteria for selection of exemplary sites for the study.

The exemplary schools created their vision and sought ways to build capacity with resources from the district, the state, the federal government, and outside partners. Several of the schools were exceptionally entrepreneurial in seeking support from outside sources. The exemplary schools sought ways to support their vision rather than adjusting it to the level of available resources.

Chapter I-3 Endnotes

1 Berman, et al., 1992.

2 Olsen, 1988, Olsen and Dowell, 1990.

3 McLeod, 1994.

[2. Overall Lessons from the Exemplary Sites] [Table of Contents] [3. Approaches to Language Development (part 2 of 2)]