A Review of Research on Effective Community Programs for English Language Learners

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article synthesized current research on effective communities for English Language Learners (ELLs). The findings are discussed under the following categories: parents, community resources, and peers. The results of the review indicate that parenting programs are effective, but they must be carefully developed and often require specific resources that challenge a typical school. Furthermore, there is no single effective method to assist ELL families. Whereas the positive effects of well designed community programs are unequivocal, it is uncertain how such programs transfer to different communities or how participation directly affects school achievement. The benefits of peer interaction have been promoted as an especially effective tool for assisting ELLs, however, adequate preparation for such interaction is necessary. Finally, the paper addresses the role of the community in a historical context, inviting readers to consider the work of Jane Addams and other progressive educators whose efforts helped an earlier generation of immigrant children adjust to life in the United States.

Key Words: English learners, languages, teaching, after-school, programs, limited, proficient, effective, community, communities, ELLs, LEP, afterschool

Overview

In 1996, Hilary Rodham-Clinton touched off a surprisingly heated debate when she published her book, It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us. While many progressive educators praised the book for drawing attention to the importance of communities in preparing children for school-and helping them to excel once there-more conservative voices attacked her work as "anti-family." For example, Fox-Genovese (1996) agreed with the book's premise but argued that "It takes a family-ideally a mother and a father-to raise a child, and the village's first responsibility is not to hamper them in doing so" (p. 63). Commentators such as Fox-Genovese suggested that the publication of Rodham-Clinton's book was both a political strategy designed to re-elect her husband and an attempt to increase the role-and budget-of the federal government, both goals that set her at odds with a more conservative agenda.

The political battle over the roles of the community and parents faded as the nation's policymakers turned their attention to international concerns, but educational researchers have continued to ask questions about the relative importance of community and family effects on school achievement (Englund, Luckner, Whaley, & Egeland, 2004; Fan, 2001; Jeynes, 2003). Whereas the political debate on this issue may have muted, educators agree that the community must play a primary role in order to maximize a child's achievement in school. For instance, we have strong evidence that the children and youth of parents who hold high expectations for academic achievement will experience greater success in school than those students whose parents have poorly defined expectations (Goldenberg, Gallimore, Reese, & Garnier, 2001). This finding, not surprisingly, mirrors the conclusions drawn by research on teacher expectations (Diamond, Randolph, & Spillane, 2004; Good & Nichols, 2001). Similarly, parents who provide their children with the materials needed for school and an environment conducive to study will also realize higher achieving students (Downey, 1995). Healthy communities provide the parks, youth organizations, and law enforcement needed so that children and youth have places to play and learn and to feel safe while doing so (Coley & Hoffman, 1996).

The present research synthesis seeks to apply the body of research on effective communities for those children and youth who are English Language Learners (ELLs). Working to find ways to help ELLs be more successful in school is now paramount. The academic achievement scores of the 4.5 million "Limited English Proficient" students in U.S. K-12 schools-a figure that grows at an annual rate of about three percent (Kindler, 2002)-show that ELLs are struggling. …