From 1990 to 2008, the increase of immigrants in the United States has doubled[i]. In the most recent demographic shift, “new destinations” are a response to the labor markets’ need to fill labor-intensive, low-paying jobs. In these new destinations, industries that include food processing, construction, agriculture and service industries have bolstered the need for a larger unskilled, and semi-skilled workforce.[ii] With this labor shift, the make-up of schools and communities has also shifted. Locales that have not historically received immigrants are now experiencing a burgeoning increase of English learner (EL) enrollment. The change in student demographics requires districts to also respond to new student needs. School districts in new immigrant destinations lack the infrastructure and understanding of EL needs to adequately provide services for new learners.[iii] This lack of infrastructure translates into schools being unable to address the academic needs of ELs. Often educators and school leaders are underprepared to provide high-quality instruction, often approaching ELs using a deficit frame rather than leveraging the linguistic and cultural assets possessed by ELs.
In Pennsylvania, from 1997-2007 the EL student population increased by 114.5%[iv]. With approximately 47,567 English language learners, speaking 229 different languages,[v] it is critical for educators to provide access to ELs and their families. The changing demographics of Pennsylvania schools sets the stage for educational policies and practices to be examined. Such an examination must take into account the unique educational needs of English learners (ELs) as well as how, and to what extent school districts are supporting both educators and the ELs students who they serve. Given the multi-dimensional nature of educating ELs, an examination of educational policy and practices to support their learning must occur at the federal, state, district and school level.
Kennett Consolidated School District (KCSD) is one such community in Pennsylvania that is experiencing an influx of ELs and the school district is grappling with the multidimensional nature of educating ELs. From 2000-2005 KCSD experienced a 17% increase in their Hispanic student population and as of 2015, KCSD’s Hispanic student population reached 42.05%[vi]. Concurrently with these demographic shifts, KCSD’s Pennsylvania academic achievement profile has consistently been at the top of the state. KCSD schools have received awards recognizing the school district for excellence. In 2010, the high school was recognized as one of America’s best high schools; while in 2015 Kennett High School was ranked 32nd within Pennsylvania and one of the best high schools in the nation[vii]. At the middle school level, Kennett Middle School was awarded the prestigious Pennsylvania Don Eichhorn Schools to Watch Program in 2012 and 2015. The Don Eichhorn is awarded to schools focused on educational excellence at the middle school level. While other districts may have struggled to meet the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students, KCSD has consistently made gains ensuring the academic success of the district at large.
Such recognition implies there is much to be learned from KCSD. Preliminary fact finding about the District reveals that there appears to be many programs and policies that support the educators and EL students. These activities include after school professional development time and teacher in-service trainings throughout the academic year. Additionally, the use of student data to frame instructional practice is highlighted alongside the many post graduate experiences of faculty in the district[viii]. There is a commitment to the professional development of the faculty by providing opportunities for school teams to engage in outside district professional development opportunities. A strong collaboration with the community partners including the local Intermediate Unit, Migrant Education Program, university partners and nonprofit groups is also present in the District plan. Engaging parents through the use of interpreters and leveraging community supports has allowed the District to makes gains toward equitable access to all students and families. According to the KCSD Professional Education Plan: “The administrative team and superintendent are involved in a process of continuous improvement, looking at artful use of infrastructure involving budgeting, scheduling of staff, improved programming and course sequencing, appropriate supports, and improvements leading to increased student achievement. Consultants are brought in as needed from the Intermediate Unit and outside the District.” To understand how school districts might respond to change, a deeper investigation of KCSD practices could reveal what actions can be taken to respond to this demographic shifts and needs of EL learners.
Best high schools in Pennsylvania (retrieved: Feb. 2016). US News and World Report
Clotfelter, C. T., Ladd, H. F., & Vigdor, J. L. (2012). New destinations, new trajectories? The educational progress of Hispanic youth in North Carolina. Child Development, 83(5), 1608–1622. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01797.x
Forte, Karin & Meister. (2015). Building support for English language learners: Strategies for creating a school culture of academic support. Retrieved from http://www.eslportalpa.info/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2013/07/RB8-ESL.pdf
Hopkins, M., Lowenhaupt, R., & Sweet, T. M. (2015). Organizing English Learner Instruction in New Immigrant Destinations: District Infrastructure and Subject-Specific School Practice. American Educational Research Journal, 52(3), 408–439. doi:10.3102/0002831215584780
Kennett Consolidated School District. (March 2015). Kennett Middle School recognized as school to watch. Retrieved from https://www.kcsd.org/news/2015/03/13/kennett-middle-school-recognized-as-a-school-to-watch/
Kennett Consolidated School District. (July 2015). Kennett Consolidated School District: Professional education plan 07/15/2015-06/30/2018 (draft). Retrieved from http://kcsd.org/archive/pdf/2015-2018-Professional_Education_Plan.pdf
Pennsylvania Department of Education. (2016, February). Pennsylvania School Performance Profile. PA.
[i] Clotfelter, Ladd, & Vigdor, 2012
[ii] Clotfelter, Ladd & Vigdor, 2012
[iii] Hopkins, Lowenhaupt & Sweet, 2015
[iv] Forte & Meister, 2015
[v] Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2016
[vi] Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2016
[vii] US News & World Report, 2015
[viii] Kennett Consolidated School District Professional Education Plan, 2015