ELs: Transformational power of policy, access, and equality

The New York Times wrote yesterday in Beyond Black and White, New Force Reshapes South

The states with the highest growth in the Latino population over the last decade are in the South, which is also absorbing an influx of people of all races moving in from other parts of the country.

This figure from the Urban Institute exhibits the rapid growth of immigration across the US:


As would be expect from the map above, seven of the ten highest growth states for English Language are located in a red swath across the South (unsure why Ohio’s number is so inflated in the CCD data).

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We took notice of the growth in the South in our upcoming book chapter:

Vasquez Heilig, J,. Lopez, F., & Torre, D. (in press). Examining teacher quality, educational policy and English Learners in Latina/o growth states. In S. Horsford and C. Wilson (Eds.), A nation of students at risk: Advancing equity and achievement in America’s diversifying schools. New York: Routledge.

We don’t yet have a proof of the chapter yet, but here is a teaser:

Over the past several decades the United States has witnessed a dramatic growth of culturally and linguistically diverse students (e.g., García & Frede, 2010). From 1980 to 2011, the percentage of students speaking a language other than English at home has doubled from 10 to 20% (U.S. Department of Education, 2010). As the English learner (EL) population has grown, the gap between their academic achievement and that of their English proficient peers remains stubbornly static across numerous indicators including achievement scores (NCES, 2010) and high school completion rates (NCELA, 2011).

Extant policies (López, McEneaney, Nieswandt, & Geronime, 2012) and teacher preparation programs (e.g., Darling-Hammond, 2010) alike are failing to address the pressing need to ensure equitable educational opportunities for ELs. Namely, “policy initiatives or legislative mandates” that constrain or forbid bilingual programs, “inadequate resources,” and a lack of “institutional will” (Garcia, Jensen, & Scribner, 2009, p. 12) are obstacles preventing educators from entering the classroom adequately prepared to meet the needs of ELs. For example, ELs continue to be disproportionately taught by less qualified teachers then their English-speaking peers (Ballantyne, Sanderman, & Levy, 2008; Darling-Hammond, 2010).

Over half of all ELs are concentrated in just three states—California, Texas, and Florida (Vasquez Heilig, 2011). However, many other states such as Alabama and Arkansas have experienced rapid growth rates in their EL populations (See Table 1). Despite this growth, educational policy research related to ELs tends to be restricted to states with the largest populations of ELs. Considering together the lack of qualified teachers trained to enhance the educational experiences of this population with their growing representation

The change in demographics is not only happening in the South, but also Oregon… yes. Oregon.

oregon ells

NPR’s LatinoUSA (You can check out my prior appearance on the show here) recently aired a segment entitled Bienvenidos a Woodburn:

The increase in Latino populations throughout many U.S. communities in the past two decades may be old news. But in states like Oregon, the change is very recent and very dramatic. Producer Dmae Roberts brings us a portrait of a town transformed in the Beaver state. Woodburn is now 60% Latino, the highest proportion in the state.

Oregon education officials and educators are pivoting to address these rapidly changing demographics. In fact, the growth of English Learner students in Oregon schools was greater between the 2000 and 2010 Census counts than Texas (36% growth versus 29%), a traditional destination for English Learner students. It was in this context that I was hired as a keynote speaker for the 39th Annual Conference set June 19-21 in Seaside, Oregon of the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators.

You can view my public Prezi of the Keynote here. This presentation was of course designed with Oregon data in mind, but can be tailored for your district or association to discuss closing the achievement gap for EL students via the transformational power of policy, access, and equality.

The Prezi is based on the new book chapter examining teacher quality for ELs in growth states discussed above,  Understanding the interaction between high-stakes graduation tests and English language learners and Community-Based Accountability.

The Keynote concluded:

For the U.S. to remain a global competitor, we must remake our educational policy based on empiricism rather than “gut feelings”— rethink the arguments underlying high-stakes testing and accountability— our nation’s rapid demographic changes require this. Our communities, our parents, our educators, our ELs, must be seen as the solution rather than the problem.

Finally, I have travelled to 45 states and 52 countries and the beauty of Oregon is clearly one of our nation’s best kept secrets. A few photos:

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Twitter: @ProfessorJVH


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