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Immigration, Language, and Education: How Does Language Policy Structure Opportunity?


by Patricia Gandara & Russell W. Rumberger — 2009

Background/Context: According to U.S. Census figures, 11 million elementary and secondary students of immigrant families were enrolled in the public schools in October 2005, representing 20% of all students, and this figure is expected to grow in the coming years. Most of these students enter school as English learners (ELs), and most ELs have exceptionally low performance on measures of academic achievement and attainment.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This article examines how language policy in the United States has shaped educational opportunities and outcomes for the nation�s immigrant students. First, we examine the role of federal policy in shaping these students� educational opportunities, showing how the changing political landscape in Washington has resulted in inconsistencies in funding and direction for states attempting to serve EL students. Then we focus on how two states with high concentrations of ELs�California and Texas�have responded to the needs of ELs, including the provision of bilingual education, the training and support of properly prepared teachers, and the assessments used to gauge their educational performance.

Research Design: The article uses secondary data sources. It draws on secondary data analysis to examine the growth of the immigrant and linguistic minority populations and their educational achievement; it draws on both historical analysis and secondary data analysis to review shifting federal policies; and it draws on demographic, achievement, and reclassification data in analyzing the education of ELs in California and Texas.

Findings/Results: We found that the changing political landscape in Washington has resulted in inconsistencies in funding and direction for states attempting to serve EL students. We also found that California and Texas appear to have different success rates with their EL students, with Texas reclassifying its ELs to fluent English status at higher rates and outperforming California with respect to National Assessment of Educational Progress scores for this same population.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The article concludes with the major recommendation that the federal government would do well to spearhead and fund a research agenda that addresses the truly important, and unanswered, questions around the education of ELs so that greater guidance can be given to the states in determining how to raise achievement and enhance the psychosocial development of these students.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 111 Number 3, 2009, p. 750-782
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15343, Date Accessed: 6/22/2017 8:11:15 AM

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About the Author
  • Patricia Gandara
    University of California, Los Angeles
    PATRICIA GÁNDARA is professor of education and codirector of the Civil Rights Project, Proyecto Derechos Civiles, UCLA, associate director of the UC Linguistic Minority Research Institute. Her research focuses on education policy, English learners, and Latino students. She is coauthor, with C. Gómez, of “Language Policy in Education,” in G. Sykes & B. Schneider (Eds.), AERA Handbook on Education Policy (forthcoming).
  • Russell Rumberger
    University of California, Santa Barbara
    E-mail Author
    RUSSELL W. RUMBERGER is professor of education and director of the UC Linguistic Minority Research Institute. His research focuses on education of disadvantaged students, including racial, ethnic, and linguistic minorities; high school dropouts; and school effectiveness Recent publications are, with coauthor P. Gándara, “Resource Needs for Educating Linguistic Minority Students,” in H. F. Ladd and E. B. Fiske (Eds.), Handbook of Research in Education Finance and Policy (Routledge, 2008); and “Parsing the Data on Student Achievement in High Poverty Schools,” North Carolina Law Review (2007).
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