Towards Promoting Biliteracy and Academic Achievement: Educational Programs for High School Latino English Language Learners

By Ochoa, Alberto M.; Cadiero-Kaplan, Karen | High School Journal, February-March 2004 | Go to article overview
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Towards Promoting Biliteracy and Academic Achievement: Educational Programs for High School Latino English Language Learners


Ochoa, Alberto M., Cadiero-Kaplan, Karen, High School Journal


The Latino student presently faces many obstacles to achieve educational equity and excellence at the high school level. This article examines academic programming for Latino middle and high school English language learners (ELLs) and provides recommendations for addressing programming that promotes biliteracy policy and programming as a valued outcome for academic and life success.

One of the largest high school districts in California was selected to evaluate middle and high school programs for Latino ELLs. Eight quality indicators were used to assess the services to Latino ELLs. The study was guided by two research questions focusing on services to Latino ELLs to support and develop biliteracy development and competence. The findings revealed that while the school district has the capacity and personnel to provide pedagogically sound programs to Latino ELLs, the district is lacking the consistency and academic rigor needed to provide equal educational access. The results suggest the need for a language policy that is supportive of additive language programs that have multiliteracy as an educational standard.

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Today, many public schools continue to treat Latino students as second class citizens and fail to nurture their bicultural educational development. Maintaining a free and open democracy demands that we actively pursue equity and excellence for Latino youth--two values that require vision, resources, high biliteracy standards, accountability, public policy commitment, and community responsibility (Kozol, 1991; Macedo & Bartolome, 1999; Mc Caleb, 1994). At the secondary school level, the education of middle and high school Latino students is characterized by two restricting problems: academic access to the core curriculum and access to college. Our public schools are stratified institutions in which some students are provided with "high status" knowledge that yields social and economic control. Others are relegated to a second class citizenship both within our K-12 public school system and in the larger society (Barrera, 1988; Darder, 1995; Espinosa & Ochoa, 1992; Kitchen, 1990; Oakes, 1985; Ochoa, 1995).

This article begins by providing an overview of the demographics of the population considered, the current factors that inhibit academic achievement of Latinos whose first language is Spanish, and an overview of bilingual programming models. The second part of the article outlines the key aspects of our study approach to document programming for this student population in one high school district. We conclude by identifying eight salient findings and recommendations that have begun to be engaged in the school district studied. Both the methodology and outcomes have applicability to other schools and districts serving significant numbers of Latino ELLs and other language minority students.

Factors Inhibiting Academic Attainment

An analysis of demographic characteristics of California K-12 students by the California Labor Department indicates that since 1985, there has been an increase of over 100% in the number of English language learners (ELLs) in California (CBEDS, 2003). There are now over 1.6 million students whose first language is not English. It is estimated that these numbers will increase to 3 million students by 2010, with over 80% of students coming from Spanish speaking backgrounds. As a result, by the year 2010 school communities that serve this increasing Latino ELL student population, which will become the majority in our school communities, will need to have in place programs that serve this population. This includes the hiring of qualified bilingual credentialed teachers. Bilingual teachers are those who are fluent in English and another language. In the case of the schools examined in this study, it would be Spanish. In addition, these teachers are trained to teach core subject areas (i.e., Science, Math, Social Studies) in both English and Spanish, and are trained in teaching English language development (ELD) with the ability to implement bilingual teaching strategies in order to address the unique linguistic, cultural, and academic development of ELLs (Baker, 2001).

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