Families of English-language-learner students in the Houston school district are less likely to take advantage of the district’s robust school choice options than other students, a study from Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research found.
The research brief concludes the findings are proof that “that parents should not be treated as a monolithic group when designing and implementing school choice policies.”
During the 2011-12 academic year, one in three English-learner elementary school students were enrolled in a non-zoned school, versus roughly 46 percent for both former ELLs and those who were never classified as ELLs.
In high school, the participation gaps grew larger: 18 percent of English-learners attended non-zoned schools compared to more than 43 percent of former ELLs and native-English speakers.
The research brief authors—Madeline Mavrogordato, an assistant professor K-12 administration at Michigan State University and Julie Harris, a research analyst at the education division of CNA’s Institute for Public Research—imply that the findings are “particularly troublesome” given Houston’s decades-long tradition of opening magnet schools and establishing open enrollment policies to provide options to families.
Mavrogordato and Harris noted that the participation gaps have remained intact despite efforts to knock down linguistic barriers for parents by translating much of the information on school choice into languages spoken by ELL families and hiring more staff who speak those languages.
“In school districts that are not as geared toward serving ELs or are only just beginning to implement school choice policies, it is likely the case that the gaps in enrolling in a non-zone schools across EL statuses would be even more pronounced,” the authors write.
The research also found that, unlike their current-ELL counterparts, families of former ELLs were just as likely as native English-speaking families to enroll their students in non-zoned schools. Former ELLs have found success in the Houston schools: more than half of the valedictorians from the graduating class of 2015 were former English-learners.
While the brief found no clear-cut explanation for differences in school choice participation of current, former, and never-ELLs, Mavrogordato and Harris argue that their findings make the case for data disaggregation when “evaluating the impact of different types of education policies.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.