Study: Segregated Schools Slow Progress of English Learners
A new study finds that California’s English learners—students who are not yet proficient in English—attend highly segregated schools, which hinders their educational opportunities. The study found that, at the elementary school level, more than half of California’s English learners attended just 21 percent of the state’s public schools where they comprised more than 50 percent of the student body. The study also found that 80 schools in the state have English learners from more than 20 language backgrounds.
Researchers from the UC Linguistic Minority Research Institute (UC LMRI), a systemwide center based at UCSB, conducted the study. According to them, segregation limits educational opportunities for English learners, or ELs, in several ways.
First, many English learners are handicapped by their lack of access to native English speakers, who serve as language role models. Second, most English learners in California come from low-income homes, so high concentrations of English learners in low-income school districts is a significant disadvantage. Third, schools with high concentrations are less likely to have fully certified teachers than schools with low concentrations of English learners, even after accounting for differences in school poverty.
“These findings show that some schools face much greater challenges in educating students and meeting state and federal mandates than other schools, and they should be given the support and resources to meet those mandates,” said Russell W. Rumberger, director of the UC institute. Current funding formulas, he added, are simply based on the number of ELs in the school, not the language diversity or concentration.
The study also found that though 85 percent of California’s English learners speak one language—Spanish—most schools in the state serve a number of language groups. More than 4,000 schools—almost half of the schools in the state—have English learners from at least six language backgrounds.
The study was based on data from the 2004-05 California Basic Education Data System and the 2005 Language Census collected from all California public schools. It was published in the latest issue of the UC LMRI newsletter (“Where California’s English Learners Attend School and Why It Matters”) and is available online at: <http://lmri.ucsb.edu/publications/newsletters/v15n2.pdf
In addition to Rumberger, who is also a professor at the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, the researchers involved in the study were Patricia Gándara, associate director of the institute and a professor of education at UC Davis, and Barbara Merino, also a professor of education at UC Davis.