Inclusión: How School Leaders Can Accent Inclusion for Bilingual Students, Families, & Communities

By Scanlan, Martin | Multicultural Education, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Inclusión: How School Leaders Can Accent Inclusion for Bilingual Students, Families, & Communities


Scanlan, Martin, Multicultural Education


Schools can be welcoming and liberating. They can also be alienating and confining. Numerous factors influence how school communities are experienced, including the mission, cultural climate, internal and external organizational structures, as well as the role of school leaders, both formal and informal It is a complex situation where each of these aspects plays a critical role in shaping the learning environment.

School principals, for instance, can structure school events in a manner that either promotes or inhibits school access to families, while teachers can enact or ignore culturally-responsive pedagogical strategies. Within the context of a growing pluralism in our school communities, the need for educational structures that encourage access and opportunity for students and families who have traditionally been marginalized is an urgent priority. The purpose of this article is to articulate a conceptual framework for school leaders that can promote such structures.

Marginalization in schools can manifest in multiple aspects, not limited to, but including race, ethnicity, social class, linguistic heritage, disability, sexual orientation, family structure, and religious tradition. This article will focus specifically on one group of traditionally marginalized students: those in linguistically diverse families.

I begin by describing the demographic imperative that this group presents in school communities. Next a conceptual framework for school leaders to approach linguistically diverse students and their families in an asset-oriented and inclusive manner will be described. Finally, this conceptual framework will be applied through specific examples of in-school supports and home-school-community collaboration strategies.

Demographic Imperative

Linguistic diversity has been ubiquitous and contested throughout the history of the United States. Shifts in political, socioeconomic, and cultural forces have influenced how schools in both the public and private sectors have responded to linguistic diversity (Ovando, 2003). Currently, substantial demographic imperatives are pressuring schools to improve educational services for students from linguistically diverse backgrounds (Garcia, Jensen, & Scribner, 2009).

The primary impetus for such initiatives is in response to the rapid growth of the of linguistic diversity within the school population. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of bilingual students has increased from one in 10 students in the late 1970s to one in five students today (Planty, et al., 2009). In terms of the languages other than English being spoken, the vast majority of bilingual students speak Spanish (75%) or Asian/Pacific Islander languages (12%) (Planty, et al., 2009). Nearly one third of the Latino population of the United States (32%) are students in the school system, and the overwhelming majority of these students (91%) are U.S. citizens (Dolan, 2009). At current rates of growth, a majority of Americans will be bilinguals by 2044 (Crawford, 2005).

While the population of linguistically diverse students is growing rapidly, there are other factors that also complicate this trend. Two particularly salient ones are the factors of segregation and high stakes accountability pressures. Though officially illegal, segregation in educational facilities persists. Segregation by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and linguistic heritage are all interconnected. As Orfield and Lee (2005) describe,

Segregation has never just been by race: segregation by race is systematically linked to other forms of segregation, including segregation by socioeconomic status, by residential location, and increasingly by language. (p. 13)

They point out that African-American and Latino students attend schools with disproportionately high poverty rates:

The average White and Asian student attends schools with the lowest shares of poor students.

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Inclusión: How School Leaders Can Accent Inclusion for Bilingual Students, Families, & Communities
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