Many suburban school districts are unequipped to handle recent influxes of English-language learners and student refugees, a new report argues.
The new student populations often tax districts’ funding sources, highlight the need for a more diverse teaching corps, and unmask divisive community sentiment about the education of English-learners, according to the report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research and policy analysis group at the University of Washington
The report, “Suburban Schools: The Unrecognized Frontier in Public Education,” notes the exponential growth in English-learner enrollment in the suburbs surrounding Boston, Seattle, and Minnesota’s Twin Cities and the challenges faced in welcoming children of families fleeing war and famine and accommodating students who speak languages other than Spanish.
The challenges can persist for years. Education Week wrote about the struggles and success the St. Cloud, Minn., school district has faced in educating its burgeoning Somali student population.
Language barriers aren’t the only hurdle these districts face. The Center for Reinventing Public Education report points out that many of the ELL families are struggling economically. This is a problem in suburban districts because antipoverty support services and philanthropic aid are often concentrated in cities.
To address these concerns, the report authors recommend that suburban school leaders seek the aid of peers in cities that have found ways to boost achievement and graduation rates for migrant, English-learner, and low income students.
The report cites the works of school leaders in the Houston suburb of Spring Branch and the Seattle suburb of Kent as examples of how to develop new schooling options, including district-run and charter-operated schools, and attract diverse, talented educators.
The authors also recommend that civic, business, and philanthropic leaders encourage districts to:
- Track student population trends in ethnicity, language, income, and location.
- Assess their current workforce in light of changing student populations.
- Identify schools that are having success with new populations and try to learn what has worked.
- Support collaboration between urban and suburban districts to analyze needs and share strategies on how to adapt without “greatly increasing the size and cost of central office bureaucracies.”
“Suburban education leaders face daunting challenges that have brought down many better-resourced, big-city systems,” the report authors write. “However, they also have opportunities: Suburbs are growing and not yet stymied by politics or labor issues.”
Image Source: Center for Reinventing Public Education
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.