Perspectives in Understanding the Schooling and Achievement of Students from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds

Article excerpt

The U.S. is comprised of many different cultural and linguistic groups, and this diversity is reflected in every state and local school district. However, the ongoing underachievement and high dropout rate of some racial/ethnic groups is still of major concern. This paper focuses on a discussion of three powerful factors related to the schooling and achievement of students from culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) backgrounds, including racial gap, social class, and cultural-ecological factors associated with involuntary minority status. Through a review of theoretical frameworks, this paper gives perspectives regarding factors related to CLD students' academic outcomes. In an effort to address the issue of CLD students' underachievement, culturally responsive teaching practices are considered as being central in facilitating those students' learning. This paper then concludes with implications for future research, policy, and/or practice.

Keyword: diverse learners; underachievement; socio-cultural perspectives; culturally responsive teaching


Currently, the number of students from culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) backgrounds attending public schools is approaching 40%, nearly twice that of such students during the 1960s (Darling-Hammond, 2006). A substantial number of schools have emerged which serve CLD populations (Frankenberg, Lee, & Orfield, 2003). However, schools in the United States have been structured to only serve students who speak English and are acculturated to mainstream society. Traditionally schools are ill-prepared to ensure academic success to students who are CLD. At the same time, the most serious and explosive issue is how to meet the educational needs of these students (Frankenberg et al., 2003; Mehan, 1991). Thus, many CLD students experience academic difficulties and are often referred for either bilingual, English as a Second Language (ESL), or special education services (Ortiz & Yates, 2001).

Scholars (e.g., Gay, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 1995; Villegas & Lucas, 2002) believe that the general lack of achievement among students of color and the discontinuity between home and school cultures are closely interrelated. The longer some students from CLD backgrounds (e.g., those from low-income minority families) stay in school, the greater the discrepancy between their educational performance and that of White and middle-class students (Gay, 2002; Ladson-Billings, 1994). In reality, CLD students have limited opportunities to develop their intellectual identities and identification with academics. CLD students are more likely to have poor grades and high rates of suspension (Meyer & Patton, 2001). If current trends in educational achievement continue, the ongoing underachievement and high dropout rate of students of color (e.g., African-American, Latino, and Native American) will be a major political concern (Meyer & Patton, 2001; Yosso, 2005).

Major Factors Influencing Achievement for Students Who Are CLD

To meet this paper's goal (i.e., provide perspectives regarding the major factors contributing to achievement for students who are CLD), two concerns should be defined. First, in this paper, CLD students are defined as (a) those whose home language is not English; and/or (b) their race/ethnicity is not White/ Caucasian. Secondly, the paper not only discusses these students' learning outcomes, but specifically focuses on the performance of those students from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds.

Understanding how differences in culture and language affect students' learning can help educators understand what schools can do to improve outcomes for many of this nation's students (Garcia & Dominguez, 1997). Furthermore, poor performance of a student who is CLD could be attributed to reasons other than cognitive and linguistic deficits (Gay, 2002). Reasons for poor performance could include racial gap, social class (or socioeconomic factor), and cultural-ecological factors associated with involuntary minority status (Meyer & Patton, 2001). …