Building Capacity to Transform Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Learning for English Learners
This chapter outlines practical implications for district and school leaders as they work to implement the new directions for STEM learning for English learners (ELs) presented in previous chapters. As Penuel and colleagues (2011) noted, an important strategy for promoting such implementation efforts, and for ensuring their sustainability, is to build capacity through intentional efforts to develop policies, processes, and practices that help an innovation travel through a system. As described in Chapter 2, the United Nations Development Programme (2009) defines capacity-building as: “the process through which individuals, organizations and societies obtain, strengthen and maintain the capabilities to set and achieve their own development objectives over time” (p. 5). Central to such capacity building is transformation, or the changing of mindsets and attitudes, that is generated and sustained over time (United Nations Development Programme, 2009). Following this definition, we view capacity building as more than the allocation of resources and engagement in implementation efforts; it also requires the questioning of broader policies and practices and concerted efforts to shift them.
Given that implementation researchers have long found that capacity can serve as both a resource and a constraint for change (e.g., Darling-Hammond, 1993; Penuel et al., 2011), the first half of this chapter outlines aspects of federal and state policy and practice that enable or constrain district and school capacity-building efforts focused on transforming STEM learning opportunities for ELs. These features of the broader educational landscape are important considerations in district and school capacity building, as they may present levers for change or warrant critique and
revisions. The second half of the chapter describes how some districts and schools in the United States have worked to build capacity related to EL and STEM education within the current policy landscape.
It is important to note that existing research does not offer sufficient causal evidence related to the effectiveness of different approaches for improving EL outcomes across districts and schools. As such, the committee reviewed research on instructional reform more broadly, as well as the available descriptive evidence related to policies and practices for ELs. Further, we relied on presentations made during committee meetings and the expertise of committee members, especially those who have worked with districts and schools to develop their EL and STEM-related capacity. Therefore, the findings presented in this chapter should be read as suggestive of what matters in EL STEM capacity building rather than a firm set of guidelines.
In addition to offering a vision for STEM education that considers the role that language plays in the learning of content, previous chapters in this report described the complexities inherent in integrating content and language in the classroom. The challenges educators face in facilitating such integration are in many ways related to the larger U.S. policy context that has historically treated language learning as separate from the learning of content. These aspects of federal and state policy are described below, in addition to relevant shifts in policy that have opened up opportunities for considering language and content integration in STEM subjects.
Federal Accountability and Assessment Requirements
Accountability policy under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002 shined a light on the education of ELs, defining ELs as a subgroup in Title I accountability and requiring EL inclusion in statewide achievement testing and data reporting. This policy was meant to ensure that districts and schools monitored and attended to student achievement in reading/language arts and mathematics, as well as high school graduation rates. For all students, however, this high-stakes accountability policy led to an emphasis on reading and mathematics instruction to the exclusion of other content areas, like science (Dee and Jacob, 2010). For ELs, given that English language proficiency fundamentally influences performance on assessments administered in English, students at beginning levels of English proficiency often cannot demonstrate their knowledge of content on standardized tests (Abedi and Gándara, 2006; Martiniello, 2008), notwithstanding concerns with the reliability and validity of such assess-
ments for ELs outlined in Chapter 7. Furthermore, the way in which the EL subgroup is defined in federal policy results in a constantly fluctuating subgroup as ELs continuously enter and exit through identification and reclassification processes. This fluctuation places unfair expectations on educators to demonstrate improved academic performance on an index that is unstable because it is based on a constantly shifting population (Hopkins et al., 2013).
Under NCLB, districts and schools receiving Title III funding were also required to monitor and report ELs’ annual progress in learning English and attainment of English language proficiency. Title III accountability provisions, combined with Title I high-stakes accountability emphasizing testing in English, thus afforded no incentives for districts or schools to use primary language instruction or assessments, and instead emphasized rapid English acquisition (Gándara and Baca, 2008; Menken and Solorza, 2014). In many ways, these policies reified long-standing assumptions in the field that ELs need to acquire English before learning academic content (Canagarajah, 2015). Furthermore, the separation of accountability for ELs’ academic progress and language proficiency between Title I and Title III ignored the connection between language and academic development (Working Group on ELL Policy, 2015).
The lack of attention to language and content integration in NCLB was addressed, at least to some extent, in the more recent Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signed into law in late 2015. Rather than splitting accountability for ELs’ academic progress and language proficiency development between Title I and Title III, ESSA moved Title III accountability for English language progress and proficiency fully into Title I. Title I provisions now require states to administer and report school performance on annual assessments of core content as well as English language proficiency, and to determine long-term goals for progress in both areas. In terms of core content, ESSA maintains the requirement that students participate in statewide achievement testing in reading/language arts and mathematics in Grades 3–8 and once in high school, with some exceptions allowed for recently arrived ELs. ESSA also continued the requirement put forward in NCLB that states assess science at least once in each of Grades 3–5, 6–9, and 10–12 (Penfield and Lee, 2010), and added reporting requirements for science assessment results. With respect to English language proficiency, ESSA allows states to consider ELs’ time in U.S. schools and initial proficiency when setting expected timeframes for language development. Overall, these changes attend to EL inclusion in mathematics and science testing and reporting and offer more realistic expectations for English language proficiency development. Nevertheless, researchers argue that more accurate expectations for ELs’ academic progress would also account for correlations between ELs’ level of English language proficiency and their
scores on content-based achievement tests (Hopkins et al., 2013). They assert that accountability systems that do not consider the relationship between language development and academic achievement will thus continue to overestimate achievement gaps and may negatively impact district and school ratings (Robinson-Cimpian, Thompson, and Umansky, 2016).
At the state level, ESSA requires the development of statewide accountability plans that include multiple measures of student performance and opportunity to learn (see Section 1111(c)(4)(B) of the act). In addition to the achievement and English language proficiency requirements mentioned above, states are required to include the following in their accountability plans:
- another “valid and reliable statewide academic indicator” for elementary and middle schools, which can be a measure of student growth;
- the 4-year adjusted cohort graduation rate for high schools (states may add an extended adjusted cohort graduation rate if they choose); and
- at least one other measure of school quality or student success that is valid, reliable, and comparable across the state, such as student engagement, educator engagement, student access to advanced coursework, postsecondary readiness, school climate and safety, or other measures.
These additional indicators and measures have the potential to bring important information to bear on whether or not ELs have equitable access to STEM courses, as well as their opportunities to learn in STEM subjects. For example, the inclusion of course access and completion as a statewide measure of school quality or student success (#3 above) could reveal the extent to which ELs at the secondary level have equitable access to core content and college preparatory coursework, including STEM-related subjects (Callahan and Hopkins, 2018; Robinson-Cimpian, Thompson, and Umansky, 2016). At the elementary level, including a measure of instructional time provided in core content areas (i.e., reading/language arts, mathematics, science) would provide similar information and indicate the extent to which ELs are exposed to STEM content in the primary grades.
English Language Proficiency and Content Standards
Beyond accountability and assessment requirements, Title I provisions require that states adopt rigorous college- and career-ready standards in reading/language arts, mathematics, and science, as well as corresponding English language proficiency standards that reflect the skills and practices
ELs need to engage with academic standards. As the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO, 2012) pointed out, many states are in the process of developing or adopting English language proficiency standards that align with content standards such as the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). As noted in Chapter 2 of this report, these shifts represent a step forward in terms of compelling policy makers and practitioners to attend simultaneously to content and language, and thus for transforming teaching and learning environments for ELs in STEM subjects.
These policy changes require effective implementation to facilitate positive change in ELs’ trajectories. Further, as Bunch, Kibler, and Pimental (2012) pointed out, “Any discussion about potential affordances [of standards implementation] for ELs must consider variation among ELs, including age, grade level, native languages, language proficiency levels, literacy background both in English and other languages, and quality of previous schooling” (p. 2). Research is needed that examines how districts and schools implement integrated language and content standards, and whether and how such integration facilitates improvement in outcomes for diverse groups of ELs. Moreover, as many scholars have pointed out, these shifts necessitate that all PreK–12 educators engage in rigorous standards-aligned content and language instruction (Santos, Darling-Hammond, and Cheuk, 2012); thus, the development of capacity to serve ELs in STEM subjects is a critical issue for English as a second language, bilingual, and content area teachers (Valdés, Kibler, and Walqui, 2014).
English Learner Reclassification
ESSA provisions under Title III also require that states adopt standardized entry and exit procedures for identifying and reclassifying English learners. In states (e.g., California, Florida, Oregon, Texas) that have allowed school districts to define their own exit criteria, a reclassified EL in one district may still be considered a current EL in a neighboring district (Linquanti, 2001; Parrish et al., 2006; Tanenbaum et al., 2012). These variations can be problematic in terms of access to services (Goldenberg and Rutherford-Quach, 2010) as well as students’ long-term outcomes (Hill, Weston, and Hayes, 2014). Whereas some states (e.g., New York, Washington) have long relied solely on ELs’ performance on a standardized English language proficiency assessment and require that ELs score above an established cut-point to be considered for reclassification, others (e.g., California) also required a passing score on content-based assessments (e.g., a standardized English language arts test).
As noted in Chapter 2, although removing content-based criteria for adjusting reclassification cut-points may increase reclassification rates and
afford ELs increased access to STEM coursework; the success of ELs in those courses will depend on district and school capacity to address ELs’ linguistic and academic needs in those courses, which is presently uneven (Cimpian, Thompson, and Makowski, 2017). In light of these complexities, some states are exploring innovative approaches to EL reclassification. For example, California is considering using the state English language proficiency test, as is required under ESSA, in addition to employing methods that provide impact data on the relationship of English language proficiency test scores to English language arts and mathematics test scores to inform the setting of cut-points (Cook et al., 2012). Further, they are collaborating with EL researchers to develop a teacher-administered language use observation protocol (Molle et al., 2016) that would inform teachers’ recommendations.
While states consider their reclassification guidelines, it will be important to attend to their effects on currently and formerly designated ELs’ access to and outcomes in STEM at the district and school level. Findings from a series of regression discontinuity studies point out that, depending on the services available in districts and schools, a misplaced reclassification threshold can lead to substantial negative effects on EL achievement, course-taking, and graduation, for either students who remain ELs or those who are reclassified (Carlson and Knowles, 2016; Cimpian, Thompson, and Makowski, 2017; Robinson, 2011; Robinson-Cimpian and Thompson, 2016; Umansky, 2016). Moreover, mere placement in coursework is not enough to facilitate EL access to STEM content and providing instruction that ensures ELs’ successful completion of STEM courses requires local capacity development (Kanno and Kangas, 2014; Thompson, 2017).
Funding choices at state and local levels affect the degree to which ELs have equitable access to STEM courses and rigorous language and content instruction. Overall, the cost of educating ELs varies between districts and schools depending on the characteristics of the EL population, the programs and services provided, and personnel costs (Sugarman, 2016). Federal funding for ELs under Title III of ESSA is distributed to states based on their overall share of ELs, as determined by state English language proficiency assessments, and on the number of immigrant students served, as indicated by the American Community Survey. Many states also provide supplementary funding to school districts using a weighted formula based on the size of their EL populations. Some states base the amount of funding that districts receive on ELs’ grade level and/or language proficiency level, or the types of services provided. Each of these funding mechanisms is based on the number of currently classified ELs, and thus depends on state
identification and reclassification criteria. As Wixom (2015) pointed out, “State funding systems have the potential to incentivize districts to shuffle ELs around different programs depending on funding availability, exit ELs from language programs too quickly or let students remain in EL programs longer than they should” (p. 4). Each of these practices has potentially negative effects on ELs access to STEM courses and content.
At the local level, districts distribute state funding for ELs in a variety of ways. Some districts allocate funds to schools on a per-pupil basis, while others allocate staff positions to schools based on enrollment, with ELs receiving greater funding based on need. Moreover, whereas some districts maintain authority over school funding and staffing, others allow school leaders to make these decisions.
Instructional Policies and Programs
Although state policies related to ELs typically focus on finance, identification, reclassification, performance monitoring, standards, and educator quality (Wixom, 2015), some states also set policy related to the use of home languages for instructional purposes (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2017). Differences in state policy in this area have implications for the kinds of programs available to ELs and their subsequent outcomes. As described in Chapter 2, ELs who are enrolled in bilingual programs and who attend school in states with bilingual policies tend to perform better in mathematics and science as measured by standardized achievement tests (López et al., 2014; McEneaney, López, and Nieswandt, 2014; Steele et al., 2017; Valentino and Reardon, 2015). Although some states (e.g., Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Texas) mandate that districts with more than 20 ELs at the same grade level from the same language background provide bilingual programming, other states (e.g., California, Arizona, Massachusetts) passed English-only policies that decreased bilingual programs statewide. California and Massachusetts amended these mandates in 2017, with California also implementing an EL Road Map that outlines a comprehensive approach to EL education and affirms ELs’ multilingual abilities (California Department of Education, 2018). Nonetheless, Arizona maintains its English-only policy and further requires that ELs participate in 4 hours of daily English Language Development instruction, often to the exclusion of meaningful content instruction (Gándara and Hopkins, 2010).
State policy related to EL instruction shapes policy and practice at the local level. Given that school districts play key roles in setting and implementing instructional policy in the United States (Honig, 2006; Spillane, 1996), the programs designed and implemented by district leaders often serve as local language policies that guide the provision of services for ELs
(Hopkins, 2016). In designing programs that attend to ELs’ language and content needs, district leaders wrestle with what some have described as conflicting principles set forth by two relevant Supreme Court cases: Brown and Lau.1 While Brown declared that the provision of separate educational settings was not equal, Lau argued that differential treatment was necessary when failure to do so would deny students—specifically ELs—access to an equitable education (Thompson, 2013). To address the requirements of both Brown and Lau, some states mandate that districts provide both designated and integrated ELD instruction, with the former addressing ELs’ language development for a specific time period, often in a separate classroom, and the latter including ELs in content (e.g., STEM) courses with integrated language instruction.
Aligned with these policies, a majority of districts and schools, especially in states that do not require or offer support for bilingual programming, implement pull-out ESL programs at the elementary level or ELD course tracks at the secondary level. These programs focus on developing ELs’ English language proficiency in separated environments. Content instruction is then provided to ELs in integrated classrooms either when they are deemed proficient enough in English to be successful, or when a teacher can provide sufficient attention to language development. Educators rely on these approaches, which tend to separate language and content and exclude ELs from content area instruction for a variety of reasons, including: (1) they assume that ELs need to attain a certain level of proficiency in English before engaging in content area coursework (Met, 1994; Minicucci and Olsen, 1992); (2) the constraints of scheduling mean that ELs in ESL or ELD courses do not have sufficient time during the school day for content courses, especially at the secondary level (Callahan, Wilkonson, and Muller, 2010); and (3) most content teachers are not prepared to work with ELs (Ballantyne et al., 2008; Gándara et al., 2005).
At the elementary level, this siloed approach emerges in how ESL services are conceptualized, as they tend to supplant, or at best supplement, language arts instruction; thus, attention to language development in content areas like mathematics and science can be limited. Implications of these separated structures are that: (1) ESL teachers assume primary responsibility for EL learning, (2) content teachers lack sufficient preparation to provide properly challenging instruction and experiences to ELs, and (3) there is little coordination or collaboration between teachers (Hopkins, Lowenhaupt, and Sweet, 2015). Nonetheless, there is a growing prevalence of co-teaching approaches in U.S. elementary schools, where ESL specialists and general education teachers collaborate to deliver linguistically respon-
1 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) and Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974).
sive content instruction (Bell and Baecher, 2012; Dove and Honinsfeld, 2012; Valdés, Kibler, and Walqui, 2014). At the secondary level, ELs are often less likely to take STEM courses (Callahan, Wilkson, and Muller, 2010) or are enrolled in less rigorous content classes with underprepared teachers (Dabach, 2015). As argued in prior chapters, these practices can foreclose opportunities for developing the language of the STEM subject areas, and they can have serious implications for graduation and college entry if ELs are not able to access the courses they need to graduate high school in a timely manner.
States are also responsible for outlining high school graduation requirements. While these requirements vary in their rigor and content coverage, they generally mandate completion of a certain number of units in English, math, science, social studies, physical education, art, and foreign language. Many ELs at the secondary level have difficulty fulfilling these requirements because they are required to demonstrate sufficient proficiency in English or complete English language development prerequisites. This is especially true for newcomers at the high school level, who are often placed in non-credit-bearing courses as they learn English (Callahan, 2005). This practice makes it challenging for high school newcomers to complete high school, especially when state policies preclude ELs from continuing in their studies past a certain age (e.g., 18 or 21), or require that students attend alternative or vocational schools after aging out. As a recent CCSSO report points out (Umansky et al., 2018), educators have found that meeting high school graduation requirements before aging out is particularly challenging for newcomers who arrive with limited or interrupted formal education, including refugees.
Notwithstanding these challenges, a potential opportunity related to high school graduation for ELs is the implementation of the Seal of Biliteracy in many states. The Seal of Biliteracy is “an award made by a state department of education or local district to recognize a student who has attained proficiency in English and one or more other world languages by high school graduation” (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 2015, p. 2). Some states, such as Oregon, provide opportunities for ELs to receive world language credit to acknowledge their native language skills, which affords ELs more access to STEM classes and improves their chances of graduating on time (Greenberg Motamedi and Jaffery, 2014).
As has been stated previously in this report, another key issue in transforming STEM learning for ELs is the capacity of the workforce to teach language and content in integrated settings. Given that most content teachers have received little preparation to work with ELs (Ballantyne et al., 2008; Gándara et al., 2005), some states have initiated course requirements and teacher certification policies focused on EL instruction. Although all states offer ESL certificates, only 21 states require specialized certification to teach ELs, and 7 states have no such requirements (López, Scanlan, and Gundrum, 2013). Other states fall somewhere in between; for example, Missouri and Pennsylvania require that all preservice teachers complete a 3-hour course related to teaching ELs, yet this requirement does not apply to practicing teachers. Overall, these policy differences mean that some states have fewer teachers who have the skills necessary to design rigorous instruction for ELs in STEM subjects. In some locales, the lack of content teachers qualified to work with ELs can be more pronounced at the secondary level; in one Connecticut district, for example, ELs in Grades K–1 were much more likely to be taught by EL-certified teachers than ELs in Grades 9–12 (79% compared to 31% [Parker, O’Dwyer, and Irwin, 2014]).
There is also insufficient infrastructure for equipping STEM teachers to work with ELs, and professional development related to teaching ELs in the content areas is not required for STEM teachers who serve ELs. It should be noted that while institutions of higher education, Regional Educational Labs, and county offices of education attempt to fill these gaps in STEM for ELs through state- or federally funded programs (e.g., the National Professional Development program funded by the Office for English Language Acquisition), these efforts are by no means equally distributed across or within states.
The first section of this chapter outlined how federal and state policy approaches both enable and constrain the integration of language and STEM content. District and school leaders wrestle with these challenges and opportunities as they work to design and implement equitable instructional and assessment practices for ELs in grades PreK–12, the ideals of which have been outlined in previous chapters. Research on instructional reform more broadly may be helpful in these efforts. This research consistently shows that top-down reform models are neither transformative nor sustainable, and that both organizational and individual capacity development are needed to facilitate large-scale instructional change (e.g., Hargreaves and
In this section, we present a framework for district and school capacity building for transforming EL learning in STEM that is based around continuous instructional improvement cycles. We then describe how some districts and schools have (and have not) intentionally and strategically designed and developed systemic change across aspects of this framework. To do so, we draw on the available research literature, as well as committee members’ experiences working in and with districts and schools undertaking efforts to improve ELs’ access to and experiences in STEM. Although we describe each component of the framework separately, these components are best considered holistically in order to facilitate systemic transformation.
A Framework for Continuous Instructional Improvement for ELs in STEM
In a study of six U.S. school districts demonstrating different levels of progress with ELs, the Council of Great City Schools characterized EL improvement efforts as complex, in that they require explicit and continuous attention to interactions between and among a range of organizational and instructional policies and practices (Horwitz et al., 2009). Although focused on improvements in language arts and reading instruction, the districts they studied that made significant strides with respect to addressing instructional equity and quality for ELs attended to these policies and practices with focused, coherent, strategic, and sustained continuous improvement efforts. The lessons from such efforts have important implications for teaching ELs in STEM subjects.
Scholars studying systemic science education reform in U.S. school districts describe three interrelated areas around which such continuous improvement efforts align: organizational culture, educators’ capability, and policy and management (Blumenfeld et al., 2000). Organizational culture encompasses local norms, routines, and practices that shape district and school culture as well as expectations for educator professionalism, collaboration, and reflection. Educators’ capability considers educators’ beliefs and expertise that influence their ability to implement curriculum, strategies, and other practices. Finally, continuous improvement efforts are supported by appropriate policies and management, which may include funding, resources, scheduling, staffing, and allocation of responsibility.
Indeed, a recent study examining large-scale reform efforts to transform science teacher quality for Latino ELs in Grades 4–8 showed that when these three areas are achieved and aligned, significant growth in teacher quality and science achievement is possible (Johnson, Bolshakova, and Waldron, 2016). Based on this scholarship, as well as committee exper-
tise, we developed a framework outlining the components of continuous improvement efforts for local systems leaders to consider as they work to facilitate instructional equity and quality for ELs in STEM education (see Figure 8-1). In the sections that follow, we describe each component in more detail, and provide examples from school districts across the United States undertaking such efforts.
Improving student learning in deep and sustained ways requires “reciprocal accountability” (Elmore, 2004), where all community stakeholders (e.g., district and school leaders, teachers, families, students) take indi-
vidual and joint responsibility for owning and executing an instructional improvement plan. Too often, accountability is operationalized punitively from the top down (Ladd, 2017). When accountability is reciprocal, however, all stakeholders are responsible to each other for achieving common goals. Committee members who have worked in school districts engaged in continuous improvement efforts, have observed that resources are in place to facilitate capacity-building, processes are transparent and inclusive, and roles and expectations are clearly defined. Moreover, everyone’s work is evaluated so that appropriate action can be taken to improve performance when capacity or will is lacking (Bryk et al., 2010; Futernick, 2010). Overall, the extant literature suggests that establishing an organizational culture based on reciprocal accountability for ELs in STEM requires attention to district and school leadership, data-informed decision making, norms of interaction, and community and family engagement, as detailed below.
District and School Leadership
Elfers and Stritikus (2014) noted that when research on educational leadership includes ELs (e.g., Frattura and Capper, 2007; Skrla et al., 2004), it tends to focus on “broader questions of equity and social justice for diverse students” (p. 307). Although these questions are undoubtedly important, these studies less frequently document the specific approaches taken by district and school leaders as they redesign their organizations with ELs’ linguistic and cultural assets in mind. As such, our focus in this section is on practical strategies district and school leaders can use to transform ELs’ STEM learning, which have diversity, equity, and inclusion at their core.
Central office leadership. Continuous improvement efforts focused on implementing instructional policies and practices call on central office leaders to build districtwide capacity for change (Cuban and Usdan, 2003; Honig, 2006). In terms of EL education, Elfers and colleagues (2013) conducted a qualitative case study in four districts engaging in deliberate improvement efforts focused on EL instruction and noted that central office leaders made explicit efforts to resolve the fragmentation that typically exists between central office departments. The study committee members have observed that these efforts often entail elevating EL-focused central office leaders to executive director or assistant superintendent positions, so that they can participate in cabinet decisions related to instructional priorities, accountability measures and performance targets, fiscal allocations, and human resources development and deployment.
Moreover, in districts where committee members have collaborated, the role of the EL Department often shifts from compliance and monitor-
ing to developing policy and providing instructional guidance. To facilitate this change, some districts establish their EL Department comparable in status to their Curriculum and Instruction Department, whereas other districts integrate the EL Department into Curriculum and Instruction. In either case, no longer is the EL Department “under the umbrella of ‘special programs’” (Elfers et al., 2013, p. 168). Instead, as has been observed by committee members, EL departments in these districts are supervised by a chief academic officer who facilitates EL and STEM integration by setting time-bound goals for co-constructed products (e.g., curriculum, instructional strategies, professional learning sessions) and allocating time and resources for cross-departmental communication. These processes ensure that EL-related issues are represented in STEM-focused instructional planning meetings, and that all staff share responsibility for EL success. For example, leaders with EL expertise work alongside STEM content experts to develop instructional frameworks, plan and deliver professional development, and communicate with school leaders.
One study of school districts demonstrating success with ELs noted that these collaborative organizational structures allowed for the distribution of EL-related expertise across content experts (Horwitz et al., 2009). Though focused on English language arts, these findings suggest that attention to district-level routines may be important for ensuring that STEM experts have opportunities to develop EL-related expertise, and vice versa. In fact, in some districts where committee members have observed success with EL populations, the creation of integrated structures and responsibility sharing resulted in policy change related to time allocations for science instruction and protected time for mathematics instruction in elementary schools. This integrated approach contrasts with the approach observed in one descriptive study, where district work routines prohibited the EL department and EL specialists from participating in STEM-related curriculum discussions and limited opportunities for teachers to learn how to transform learning for ELs in mathematics (Hopkins et al., 2015; see Box 8-1).
School leadership. In addition to bringing ELs into the center of work at the district central office, open and consistent communication between district and school leadership is an important condition for capacity building. Such communication can help engage leaders “in a mutual and reinforcing blend of efforts that set direction and mobilize resources” (Elfers et al., 2013, p. 169). Just as district leaders redesign structures for language and content integration, school leaders engaged in capacity building look to move or reassign staff, invest in the capabilities of existing staff, and foster a culture of collaboration.
Studies examining components of inclusive school environments for ELs have shown that, rather than viewing the ESL teacher and program
as primarily responsible for EL learning, school leaders create structures that emphasize a school culture of shared responsibility for EL instruction (Brooks, Adams, and Morita-Mullaney, 2010; Theoharis and O’Toole, 2011). Whereas some leaders opt to shift from pull-out ESL instruction models to integrated co-teaching models with language and content teachers (see Chapters 4 and 6), others reallocate resources to ensure that all general education staff are dually certified in ESL and content instruction (Theoharis and O’Toole, 2011). In both models, ELs are equitably distributed across classrooms, rather than clustered by language or proficiency level, and bilingual paraprofessionals are assigned to general education rather than ESL classrooms (Elfers and Stritikus, 2014). Both approaches require the design of structures and routines that afford teachers opportunities to collaborate and learn from one another about language and content instruction (Education Trust-West, 2018; Hopkins, Lowenhaupt, and Sweet, 2015). Overall, these shifts are taken up while communicating a compelling rationale for moving beyond a fragmented approach and articulating the ways in which EL education is central to district and school reform efforts (Elfers and Stritikus, 2014).
Importantly, research suggests that elementary and secondary leaders face different challenges as they organize to transform STEM learning for ELs. Given that elementary schools tend to emphasize language arts and mathematics instruction, school leaders at that level wrestle with how to amplify science as a core instructional area (Alarcón, 2012). At the secondary level, on the other hand, instructional alignment and integration tends to be a challenge given that larger numbers of teachers are often involved in serving ELs (Elfers and Stritikus, 2014). Nonetheless, when school leaders are committed to changing practice and invest in the professional development of all teachers, school capacity to teach ELs in STEM subjects can be developed (Elfers and Stritikus, 2014).
Data-Informed Decision Making
District and school leadership teams spearheading efforts to improve STEM instruction for ELs engage in data-informed and inquiry-driven decision-making processes. Equity audits, a civil rights concept applied to education by Skrla and colleagues (2004), are a promising tool for assisting leaders in engaging in “systemic equity,” in which they operate to ensure that all students have equitable learning opportunities (Scott, 2001, p. 6). Scholars recommend that leaders collect and analyze a range of data related to achievement equity, programmatic equity, and teacher quality equity to identify where inequities may be present in the system, understand their root causes, and inform improvement efforts. District and school leaders work together to gather and analyze demographic and performance
data, observe in classrooms, shadow principals and conduct school walkthroughs, and survey teachers, parents, and students.
Data points relevant to informing EL and STEM improvement efforts include student academic performance and grades, English language proficiency growth, reclassification rates, attendance rates, graduation rates, program enrollment, course-taking and completion patterns, and teacher qualifications and years of experience. Initial data analyses can inform such questions as:
- Do ELs have equitable access to STEM content and coursework?
- How well are ELs at different levels of language proficiency faring in STEM subjects?
- Do ELs have access to highly qualified and experienced STEM teachers? How does access to STEM content vary by ELs’ language background, or by their prior level of schooling?
- How are ELs enrolled in bilingual programs or courses performing in STEM subjects compared to ELs enrolled in English-only programs or courses?
- How well are reclassified ELs doing in STEM subjects?
- How is EL access to and performance in STEM subjects related to attendance and/or high school graduation rates?
In conducting such analyses, it is important to look at results holistically, as Robinson-Cimpian, Thompson, and Umansky (2016) pointed out in their analysis of EL-related policies and practices. For example, schools
with higher reclassification rates may not necessarily serve ELs better, as they may be removing services too soon, resulting in lower performance for reclassified ELs in STEM courses. Further, as outlined in Chapters 2 and 7, appropriate assessments are typically not available and/or used for ELs; thus, data related to EL performance may not represent all that students are capable of and may require EL expertise to be interpreted.
In engaging in data analysis efforts that attend to ELs’ inclusion in STEM opportunities, district leaders can move their focus on ELs from policy compliance to educational equity and quality. The information gathered via an equity audit helps district and school leaders identify policies and practices that are stalling or generating success for ELs and make decisions about where to intervene in the system (e.g., district or school level, elementary or secondary), and for whom (e.g., recently arrived ELs, long-term ELs, reclassified ELs, ELs with interrupted formal education, ELs from particular language backgrounds, dual identified ELs). Based on scholarship on educational leadership (e.g., Mintrop, 2016), systems interventions can draw on design-based inquiry approaches, where changes are designed and implemented, then adapted as necessary around iterative data collection and analysis cycles.
In districts showing success with their ELs, instructional leadership teams at the district and school level gather and analyze data at least three times each year. At the secondary level, district and school leaders regularly examine EL reclassification rates, course-taking trends, and success rates. They study the extent to which ELs are included in college preparatory and Advanced Placement mathematics and science courses and their rate of success, failure, or drop-out. They look at students currently classified as ELs and those who have been reclassified to ensure all current and former ELs have equitable access to STEM coursework and are on track to graduate. They then study course enrollment and instructional practices, the core curriculum and its enactment in the classroom, instructional resources (in English and other languages), and assessments. In addition, district and school staff can shadow ELs to understand their experiences in STEM, and observe how teachers engage ELs in STEM discourse in the classroom (Education Trust-West, 2018). These ongoing data collection and analysis efforts help districts identify problematic course placement and sequencing for ELs, thus informing decisions to transform classrooms for ELs in STEM that minimize their isolation and ensure both equitable course access and high-quality learning opportunities.
Emerging scholarship on research-practice partnerships (RPPs) in education suggests that collaborations with researchers may be especially helpful in district and school continuous improvement processes. In collaboration with researchers, district and school leaders can ensure data quality, receive support for data collection and analysis, engage in program
evaluation, and connect to the broader evidence base to inform ongoing improvement efforts (Coburn and Penuel, 2016; Thompson et al., 2017). For example, based on their collaborative data analysis, researchers working with leaders from the Oregon Department of Education found that ELs with disabilities were much less likely to be reclassified than other ELs (Thompson et al., 2017), which is informing a design-based project to understand how districts address this issue, to develop tools and processes for reclassifying ELs with disabilities, and to engage in cycles of inquiry to refine these tools and processes.
Culture of Collaboration
Practicing reciprocal accountability and data-driven decision making requires an organizational culture that values and facilitates collaboration among all stakeholders. Districts engaged in systemic transformation for ELs invite representatives from many stakeholder groups to engage in the planning, implementation, and oversight of improvement efforts. They establish a culture of collaborative problem solving, experimentation, and learning through formal organizational structures and professional networks. With respect to networks, districts engaged in continuous improvement focused on EL education facilitate peer networks in which leaders uncover, analyze, and respond effectively to problems of policy and practice. Such networks can facilitate information exchange and access to research and can promote leaders’ professional learning and development (Umekubo, Chrispeels, and Daly, 2015). On the other hand, sparse leadership networks can constrain the exchange of information and inhibit district change efforts (Finnigan, Daly, and Che, 2013). Developing peer networks across school systems can help to facilitate a culture of collaboration in which leaders plan and implement changes that strengthen system-wide policies, programs, and practices that transform STEM learning for ELs.
Moreover, the integration of language and content across local systems often requires the development of new policies and practices related to curriculum development, materials selection, assessment, instruction, and professional development. Facilitating these changes requires collaboration between STEM leaders and leaders in literacy and English language development to revise, adapt, or create new practices and tools that support schools in teaching ELs in STEM. These leadership teams might include central office mathematics, science, technology, literacy, and language specialists, as well as instructional coaches or other teacher leaders, or even university partners. These diverse teams meet regularly to develop integrated instructional frameworks (more on this below), design curricula and associated assessments, and plan professional development. These processes help to ensure coordination across the system, while also allowing for site-based
needs to be considered. In Oakland Unified School District, for example, the Oakland Language Immersion Advancement in Science (OLAS) partnership brings together instructional teams from five dual-language elementary schools, the district’s science and EL departments, and external partners (e.g., the Bay Area Writing Project), who work together to integrate science and language instruction and design integrated lesson plans that attend to both science and ELD standards (Feldman and Malagon, 2017).
Within schools, designing for the kind of high-quality teaching and learning described in previous chapters also requires collaboration among content and language teachers (Alarcón, 2012; Valdés, Kibler, and Walqui, 2014). As an example, Ciechanowksi (2014) described how a team including a language specialist and classroom teacher, with assistance from a researcher, designed interconnected science and language instruction for a 3rd-grade dual language class. In after-school planning meetings, the team analyzed its ELD and science curricula and developed a series of lessons that “promote[d] classroom conversation to leverage a variety of language types in extended discourse around [science] topics” (p. 239). Through its collaborative analysis, the team identified ways to scaffold various linguistic functions (e.g., explaining) to facilitate ELs’ participation in science investigations, an approach that highlights the importance of language in meaning-making (see Chapter 3). The team’s diverse expertise in linguistics, science, instructional strategies, and disciplinary discourses enabled it to integrate the two curricula, and ELs demonstrated significant gains in both language and content as a result of its integrated unit planning and co-teaching approach.
On the other hand, several studies have shown how ELD teachers tend to be marginalized in their schools when a culture of collaboration is not fostered in districts and schools, and when language and content teachers do not have opportunities to work together to examine curricula and jointly plan instruction and assessment (Arkoudis, 2006; Davison, 2006; McClure and Cahnmann-Taylor, 2010). Such marginalization often results in ELD teacher isolation, which can be especially problematic when content area teachers have not been equipped to serve ELs and could benefit from opportunities to collaborate with language specialists (Hopkins, Lowenhaupt, and Sweet, 2015).
Community and Family Engagement
Beyond developing a culture of collaboration between district and school staff focused on teaching ELs in STEM, organizational cultures in districts showing success with ELs (as observed by committee members) foster community and family engagement. They develop an ecosystem for EL STEM education that leverages assets in the community and in stu-
dents’ homes. In terms of community, district and school partnerships with intermediary organizations can facilitate learning opportunities for leaders, teachers, and students (see Box 8-2). Such partnerships can strengthen the quality and amount of science instruction provided to ELs. For example, several San Francisco Bay Area school districts partner with the BaySci network, the Lawrence Hall of Science, the Exploratorium, and Inverness Research to offer leadership seminars, a teacher leadership academy, and group planning meetings (Feldman and Malagon, 2017). An evaluation of this partnership revealed increases in the quality and quantity of science instruction and in student engagement in the majority of participating districts (Remold et al., 2014).
Community partnerships can also afford ELs with access to resources, as well as mentoring opportunities and internships that expose them to workplace experiences and enhance STEM learning and language use. For example, Calipatria Unified School District in California, which is geographically distant from science institutions, partners with the Research and Education Cooperative Occultation Network to provide ELs at the high school level with access to an astronomer’s telescope with which they can make planetary observations and conduct astronomy research (Feldman and Malagon, 2017). Students then videotape observations from the telescope and send their results to university partners in St. Louis and Arizona.
These kinds of partnerships also provide ELs and their families with opportunities to learn about current and evolving career opportunities and expose ELs and their parents to the skills and practices needed to be successful in postsecondary STEM education. Committee experience suggests that external partnerships focused on STEM learning for ELs usually have a district-based coordinator who establishes relationships with museums, businesses, industry, professional organizations, and universities and works with them to develop activities that introduce and deepen students’ and families’ understandings of STEM. Activities might include speaker series, field trips, mentorships, internships, and conferences for teachers, students, and families. For example, in Oakland Unified School District, student groups, including ELs from each school, attend a yearly “Dinner with a Scientist” event.
In districts and schools where committee members have worked, the people engaged in continuous improvement focused on transforming learning for ELs in STEM tend to view family engagement from a collaborative perspective. They go beyond traditional engagement strategies such as hosting parent-teacher conferences and parent education or volunteer activities (Carreón, Drake, and Barton, 2005; Lowenhaupt, 2014) and recognize the importance of building families’ understanding of STEM education and what is needed for their children to actively participate in STEM courses and activities. By taking a relational approach (Warren et al., 2009), they
work with families so that the families can serve as advocates for their children to be included in college preparatory STEM courses and in STEM-related experiences. Building on the aforementioned external partnerships, committee members have observed that these districts offer families experiences such as parent ambassadorships, visits to STEM institutions, multicultural programming, college and career planning, and financial aid courses. Some of these efforts began as innovations supported by philanthropic
foundations, but are sustained by the district and partnering organizations after a period of implementation and demonstrated success. Overall, these partnerships can help to create a rich ecosystem of STEM learning for educators, students, and families that may not otherwise be possible given policy and funding constraints outlined in the first part of this chapter.
As noted in previous chapters, efforts to improve STEM education for ELs, and all students, require deepening educators’ understandings of content and language instruction and attending to their beliefs about the nature of EL and STEM education. Improvement efforts that overlook these aspects of educator capability are less likely to be taken up in a widespread manner than those that attend explicitly to them (Lee and Luykx, 2005). Committee members’ experiences in school districts suggest that attending to the development of educators’ knowledge and beliefs requires a coherent instructional vision and articulated framework that guides districtwide improvement efforts, including program implementation and staffing decisions, as well as opportunities for professional learning.
An instructional vision can be defined as “beliefs about the education of children and the expressed . . . goals . . . for the school district to accomplish these beliefs” (Petersen, 1999, p. 6). In school districts where committee members have observed progress on state assessments and graduation rates for ELs, continuous improvement efforts are guided by a clear vision for EL instruction that is grounded in principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion and articulates goals for language and content integration that are aligned to rigorous language and content standards. Committee experience suggests that this instructional vision is most often developed by an EL-focused leadership team that includes representatives from all instructional departments (e.g., curriculum and instruction, special education, community and family engagement, and school support services) and operational departments (e.g., human resources, budget office) in the central office, as well as school leaders and teachers, union representatives, members of institutions of higher education, and relevant community partners. Some district leaders also include students and families on the vision development team to ensure their voices, hopes, and aspirations are included.
Leveraging results from equity audits and other data collection and analyses (see Data-Informed Decision Making above), the vision development process engages team members in a variety of learning experiences that strengthen their understandings of ELs, their experiences in schools, and their success in STEM subjects. To engage in vision development, leadership teams are often provided the time and space to engage in capacity development and planning by top district leaders (e.g., superintendents, chief academic officers, board members). The vision they develop focuses district priorities and guides strategic improvement efforts for ELs in STEM. For example, committee members have observed that some districts demon-
strating gains for ELs in STEM have equity-oriented visions for ELs that are evidence- and research-based and move away from deficit-oriented models that require ELs to demonstrate proficiency in English before engaging in STEM content. Some of these districts shifted from intervention-based practices toward high expectations and instructional rigor so that ELs are college- and career-ready upon high school graduation. Some districts also include biliteracy as a goal, especially in states offering the Seal of Biliteracy to high school students.
This visioning process is critical for developing an instructional framework focused on transforming STEM learning for ELs across the PreK–12 pipeline. As has been illustrated in districts undergoing mathematics instructional reform, an instructional framework serves as a guide for implementation of a district’s instructional vision, and articulates alignment among standards, curriculum, and assessments (Hopkins and Spillane, 2015).
Instructional frameworks in districts where committee members have observed success with ELs in STEM tend to focus on three principles: opportunity to learn, asset orientation, and student autonomy. First, instructional frameworks inform the development of demanding core academic curriculum that is aligned to both college- and career-readiness standards and English language proficiency standards and ensures equitable practices to assess ELs’ content learning and language development. Second, they acknowledge that ELs’ backgrounds, cultures, and home languages are assets for learning. Third, instructional frameworks are designed to build ELs’ autonomy within and between grade levels and guide the development of challenging learning experiences that provide opportunities for regular feedback. This three-pronged approach can help move districts away from implementing models based on a minimum number of required minutes of ELD instruction geared to meet compliance requirements, toward offering quality instruction for ELs that is aligned to research-informed principles.
Embedded across all areas of a district’s instructional framework is a clear and coherent language development approach designed to provide ELs with challenging, personalized, high-quality, rigorous, grade-level standards-based instruction. Such instruction is aligned to PreK–12, anchored in the district’s vision for ELs, and reflects the teaching and learning expectations in both content and language standards. A robust language development approach calls for ELs, and all students, to have ample opportunities to simultaneously develop content area knowledge, analytical practices, and discipline-specific academic language (Heritage, Walqui, and Linquanti, 2015). Grade-level expectations are maintained for ELs in STEM classrooms using research-informed strategies, such as deliberate
and appropriate scaffolds that build on students’ cultural and linguistic assets and connects their prior knowledge to new learning, purposeful and embedded language instruction, and formative assessment. Such approaches strive to develop student autonomy by affording ELs multiple and varied opportunities to engage in disciplinary discourse and comprehend and use language for a variety of purposes. Importantly, this approach to language development in STEM subjects is communicated across the system to all stakeholders, including leaders, teachers, family members, and students.
Districts with a clear language development approach require all educators to be responsible for the design and implementation of high-quality EL STEM instruction. Central office leaders understand that language and content learning cannot be separated, and they work together to develop curriculum, resources, and professional development to build educators’ capacities to integrate language and content. As has been described in previous chapters, each content area or discipline has specific ways of using language to reason or develop arguments, to explain ideas and cite evidence, to comprehend and produce texts that communicate conceptual understanding, and to engage in analytic practices. ELs need to be apprenticed into these practices through active engagement in authentic STEM learning opportunities. Districts that have been successful in implementing these practices articulate coherent visions and frameworks, then prioritize building the understanding and capacity of all educators to deliver on the approach.
Research on elementary mathematics reform describes how curriculum development teams, including central office leaders and teachers from across the district, engage with state standards to articulate a reform-oriented framework that guides the selection of instructional materials as well as the development of instructional units and associated assessments (Hopkins and Spillane, 2015). Instructional coaches and teacher leaders engaged in framework development help to lead implementation efforts, which are supported by teacher professional development activities. Districts working to develop instructional frameworks specifically for ELs in STEM might find California’s integrated English language arts and English language development framework helpful as starting points (California Department of Education, 2015), as well as associated resources for integrating the ELD standards into math and science teaching and learning (Lagunoff et al., 2015). District leaders can support their staff in adopting or developing high-quality curriculum materials that integrate ELD and STEM rather than serve as add-on interventions. Attention to the adoption of instructional materials is critical, as these materials are highly influential on student learning yet their selection is often under the purview of district and school leaders (Koedel and Polikoff, 2017).
Programs and Staffing
In addition to articulating a vision that informs the development of an instructional framework to align standards, curriculum, assessment, and professional development, school districts engage in efforts to implement this framework via programs and staffing. Although research points to the benefit of bilingual programs for improving ELs’ achievement in math and science (López, McEneaney, and Nieswandt, 2015; McEneaney, López, and Nieswandt, 2014; Steele et al., 2017; Valentino and Reardon, 2015), the reality is that the programs that districts implement vary by EL population size and diversity, and by the extent to which resources are present to facilitate EL inclusion. For example, districts serving small and relatively new EL populations that speak many languages may spend resources on ESL pullout or push-in models to attend to ELs’ needs in STEM classrooms. On the other hand, school districts with large and long-standing EL populations that tend to speak one or two languages may have bilingual pathways in place for students across PreK–12 that attend to language and content for ELs and other students.
Given these variations in EL instructional models, the ways in which language and content are integrated to transform STEM learning opportunities for ELs will necessarily require different allocations of instructional time, resources, and staffing. A few districts demonstrating gains for ELs on standardized science assessments in California have created integrated ELD and science instructional blocks at the elementary level to leverage connections between science and language, and to ensure there is dedicated instructional time for science (Feldman and Malagon, 2017). To support these efforts, teachers receive significant professional development related to the integration of science, literacy, and ELD in classrooms where English is the language of instruction. Feldman and Malagon (2017) noted that this integrated approach to teaching science and ELD has been adopted in districts that are organized around both English-dominant and bilingual instructional models at the elementary level.
Similarly, at the secondary level, districts demonstrating gains for ELs schedule dedicated and uninterrupted time for integrated ELD and STEM instruction (Feldman and Malagon, 2017). These arrangements allow for either an ELD teacher to co-teach with a STEM teacher in an extended class period, or for the teachers to co-teach a regular period, and then the ELD teacher has additional time for integrated language and science or math learning. These models require that ELD and STEM teachers have time and resources dedicated to co-planning, and to developing a shared understanding of language and STEM instruction that align with the pedagogical approaches described in earlier chapters (see also Valdés, Kibler, and Walqui  for a discussion of the role of the ESL professional in standards-
based reform). On the other hand, coherent, sound bilingual instructional models with qualified teachers with advanced bilingual capabilities may be particularly beneficial at the secondary level for recently arrived ELs. A demonstration project in southern California, for example, used a binational curriculum to offer college preparatory STEM courses to recently arrived ELs in Spanish, which provided students access to STEM classes and allowed them to stay on track to graduate while they learned English (Hopkins et al., 2013; see Box 8-3). Bilingual STEM teachers offered these courses and received professional development related to the integration
of language and content, as well as opportunities to develop the language skills necessary to offer rigorous STEM instruction in Spanish.
Regardless of instructional program, ensuring proper placement of ELs into STEM classes is important. In districts where committee members have observed attention to course placement at the elementary level, district and school leaders create structures so that designated or pull-out ELD does not take away from content instruction, and push-in ELD are allocated across all content areas, including STEM. At the secondary level, ELs are placed into STEM classes with both equity and access in mind to ensure placement into appropriate coursework as well as the provision of resources to facilitate their success, such as highly qualified teachers. In Washington state, school districts offer world language credits to ELs for demonstrating proficiency in their first language, which opens up space in their schedules to take advanced-level classes, and to retake them as necessary (Greenberg Motamedi and Jaffery, 2014).
Across all program types, districts in which committee members have observed success with ELs in STEM pay particular attention to the recruitment and retention of instructional staff with STEM expertise. District and school leaders build staff capacity to teach STEM and to integrate ELD and content instruction, and they ensure that ELs are placed into the classrooms of these educators. Instructional staff include teachers with STEM expertise, many of whom are also bilingual, as well as paraprofessionals who have expertise in STEM and/or are bilingual (Erbstein, 2016). District and school leaders are careful to ensure that teachers with content certification are working with those with language expertise to co-construct and/or co-teach lessons that include appropriate scaffolds for ELs and are collaborating with paraprofessionals to ensure instructional alignment. School counselors are also critical staff members in these districts, as they can ensure proper placement of ELs in STEM courses and in classrooms with teachers or teams of teachers who are well-equipped to meet EL needs (see National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine  for the preparation of counselors and principals).
As noted in Chapter 6, the majority of ELs are placed in classrooms with teachers who have limited preparation related to how to deliver integrated language and content instruction aligned to college- and career-ready standards. To address this challenge, some districts build certification processes internally or partner with universities to increase educator capabilities. For example, after struggling to fill teacher vacancies in their dual language programs, Portland Public Schools partners with Portland State University to offer staff members the opportunity to earn a master’s degree
in elementary education with a bilingual/English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) endorsement or in secondary education with a world language endorsement (e.g., Spanish) while they simultaneously work as classroom teachers, full-time substitutes, or paraprofessionals (Garcia, 2017). As another example, a decades-long school-university partnership in Chula Vista, California, is structured such that university faculty offer professional development to teachers in the school related to implementing standards-based content instruction with ELs, and the school places preservice teacher candidates from the university in their classrooms to generate a pipeline of well-qualified teachers who are prepared to employ the kinds of linguistically responsive and culturally sustaining approaches described in Chapter 6 (Alfaro et al., 2014; Garcia, 2017).
In other districts where committee members have worked, mathematics and science leaders in the central office work with EL specialists to develop job-embedded teacher professional development that seeks to augment the quality and quantity of extended academic conversations in classrooms. Professional development activities focus on developing teachers’ knowledge and skills related to facilitating academic discussions in each content area, and teachers learn how to implement a classroom culture with disciplinary discussion norms, routines, strategies, and peer feedback in consultation with coaches or other instructional leaders. In other cases, committee members have observed teachers learning STEM content during professional development sessions, as well as how to facilitate STEM inquiry using disciplinary discussion and how to use tools such as science notebooks to promote writing. To monitor teachers’ implementation of these approaches, some of these districts have used a protocol similar to instructional rounds that brings teams of teachers and principals into classrooms to examine practices, identify trends, and target and plan for improvements in practice. Finally, some districts have joined community-wide initiatives to pool resources as they engage in these efforts; several districts in San José, California, for example, joined a collaborative with the Santa Clara County Office of Education, where teachers participate in symposia on standards-based math instruction and form teams that analyze student work, examine data, and reflect on issues of equity and access for ELs with a math coordinator and instructional coaches (Education Trust-West, 2018; see Box 8-4).
Although all teachers would benefit from professional development opportunities that attend to explicit integration of STEM content and disciplinary language, the professional learning needs of elementary and secondary teachers may differ somewhat. Whereas elementary teachers may need more support for learning STEM content than secondary teachers of STEM, secondary STEM teachers may require more exposure to ELD instructional strategies and resources than elementary teachers. Related to
the latter, a study described how rural math and science teachers who took part in an ELD-focused professional development and acquired their ESL certificates served as peer mentors for their content specialist colleagues (Hansen-Thomas and Richins, 2015). Through targeted collaboration efforts, teachers served as mentors for their colleagues in the integration of STEM and ELD instruction at their schools. This example illustrates how teachers benefit from both formal and informal opportunities to develop their expertise to serve ELs in STEM, through professional development activities and coursework as well as through on-the-job collaboration with colleagues.
Policy and Management
As Blumenfeld and colleagues (2000) suggested, the foundations of any efforts to foster organizational cultures and develop educator capabilities to teach ELs in STEM are policies and management structures that allocate funding and other resources to support them. In districts where committee members have observed success with ELs in STEM, district and school leaders create policies that are aligned to the instructional vision and allocate fiscal and human resources and extended supports to ensure realization of those policies. Moreover, efforts to monitor progress and offer guidance are employed to allow for continuous improvement.
Generally, recent analyses suggest that the explicit integration of language and content instruction via co-teaching or bilingual models may be more cost-effective than fragmented ESL pull-out approaches (Sugarman, 2016). At the secondary level in particular, Sugarman (2016) noted that standalone ESL courses incur costs but do not confer graduation credits to students, in comparison to the integrated co-teaching of ELD and STEM or the provision of bilingual content courses. As described above, school districts receive a combination of federal, state, and local funding for EL education, and district and school leaders are tasked with deciding how to allocate funding across schools. Although the allocation of fiscal resources for EL STEM education varies within and between school districts depending on the extent to which resource distribution is centralized (Sugarman, 2016), research points to the value of blending district and school involvement in resource allocation and decision making. In a district with a high degree of centralized decision making, for example, resources were equitably distributed to schools based on need, yet school leaders could appeal to district leaders for more resources (e.g., funding to hire an EL instructional coach) if they provided evidence of need (Elfers and Stritikus, 2014). More-
over, decisions to replace ineffective programs with different programs, or to reallocate program funds to staffing or professional development, were made collectively by district and school leaders. On the other hand, in school districts where resources were more decentralized, there was less consistency in the allocation of fiscal resources for ELs, and resource allocation was most connected to the district’s vision for EL instruction in schools with leaders knowledgeable about effective EL instruction (Elfers and Stritikus, 2014).
In districts where committee members have observed positive gains for ELs in STEM, leaders prioritize the alignment of fiscal and human resources. Human resources staff review for appropriate credentials in STEM content and ELD or ESL, and they seek educators with bilingual skills by recruiting inside and outside the country. Some districts in Elfers and Stritikus’ (2014) study went beyond state credentialing requirements and developed their own systems for screening personnel to assess their bilingual abilities and to determine whether newly hired teachers and paraeducators could meet the demands of their programs. Other districts in this study focused on augmenting the skills of their existing staff and negotiated with state agencies for funding assistance to be able to offer ESL certificate courses to teachers. These teachers were then prepared to deliver EL-focused professional development to others in the district, including paraprofessionals. Paraprofessionals received extensive onboarding and follow-up training so they were prepared to work with ELs in content classrooms.
Beyond instructional staff, some school districts use extra funding to hire community or parent liaisons whose work focuses on newcomer integration, translation services, and other mechanisms that foster home-school connections (Garcia and Carnock, 2016). Other districts ensure that each school has a bilingual secretary to welcome parents and students (Elfers and Stritkus, 2014). Finally, bilingual school counselors are present in some districts and schools to ensure ELs have access to program and course information and are appropriately placed in schools and classrooms such that they have access to rigorous STEM coursework while they are learning English.
Given the challenges many districts and schools face in meeting ELs’ diverse needs within the constraints of the regular school day, some have opted to allocate funding and resources to provide ELs with extended supports that afford them additional opportunities to engage with STEM
content. As described above, some of these opportunities are facilitated by community partners and include afterschool or summer programs (Feldman and Malagon, 2017). Others are facilitated by teachers, such as efforts among elementary science teachers in Arizona to develop afterschool clubs and summer camps focused on STEM content for ELs in Grades K–5 (Kelly, 2016). At the secondary level, the Boston International High School headmaster acquired additional funding to allow teachers to work extended hours on select days of the week to tutor ELs one-on-one or in small groups (Castellón et al., 2015). These afterschool interventions were developed and assessed during collaborative teacher meetings on early release days each week to ensure students received targeted and timely content instruction. A national survey of programs and services for high school ELs showed that, in addition to afterschool programs, high schools offer summer school, remediation classes, and credit recovery (Lewis and Gray, 2016). These extended supports are often necessary to facilitate ELs’ access to STEM content and coursework, and they are most successful when supported by fiscal and human resources and aligned to the district’s instructional vision.
Beyond extended instructional time, many districts serving large populations of recently arrived ELs allocate additional resources to acquire background information that facilitates proper course placement (Umansky et al., 2018). In addition to initial English language proficiency assessments, some districts use native language and mathematics assessments, coupled with transcript evaluations when possible, so that newcomers can be placed in STEM classes appropriate to their language abilities and prior schooling experiences. These types of intake processes are often facilitated by bilingual liaisons and counselors, which again requires the alignment of fiscal and human resources to ensure these staff members are supported and prepared for this work.
Monitoring and Guidance
Continuous improvement efforts focused on teaching ELs in STEM are often guided by actionable improvement and monitoring plans that allow stakeholders to monitor progress and communicate the impact of new policies and practices. This work can be facilitated by an oversight committee that includes district leadership responsible and accountable for results in addition to critical community leaders. Members represent a range of programs and groups, including secondary and elementary supervisors, human resources, parent engagement, instructional technology, student support services, curriculum, instruction, assessment, financial services, communications, local universities, and teachers’ unions. This group of stakeholders might engage in data collection and analysis to monitor district and school progress in facilitating ELs’ access to and progress in STEM (see “Data-
driven Decision Making” above) and offer guidance with respect to program design and redesign, staffing, professional development, and resource allocation. They may also gather information pertaining to legal requirements for serving ELs and ensure that the district and schools are meeting these obligations.
In general, although an oversight committee oversees implementation, provides guidance, and makes recommendations for resource allocation, schools have some latitude in how they use their human and fiscal resources to transform instruction for ELs in STEM subjects. In school districts that are successful in serving ELs, central office leadership holds tight to its instructional vision, defines core and supplemental instructional programs, and outlines competencies required of educators. District leaders build tools and professional learning opportunities for teachers, principals, and central office staff to support and deepen implementation of new instructional policies and practices. Still, schools have flexibility in how they implement the pedagogical shifts required in each classroom, and district leaders monitor progress by establishing implementation and student outcome targets and uses data and continuous improvement cycles to study results and progress.
Systemic reform is needed to ensure that ELs receive equitable opportunities to engage in STEM subjects. Policies at all levels—federal, state, and local—can impact these opportunities by either facilitating access or serving as a barrier. For example, as described in this chapter as well as Chapter 2, the ways in which ELs are identified and reclassified can potentially skew the interpretation of STEM academic achievement for ELs. Moreover, policies at the local level can influence the distribution of funding as well as the preparation and placement of STEM teachers in schools and districts. Throughout this chapter, a framework for continuous instructional improvement for ELs in STEM has been outlined that attends to three core aspects of organizational culture, educator capability, and policy and management. Although three areas are described as inclusive of distinct components, these components are interrelated and represent an interconnected web that has the potential to shape the development of equitable STEM learning opportunities for ELs within and across districts and schools. The development of such systems is necessary to leverage the opportunities, and to address the challenges, presented by federal and state educational policies.
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