Book Review – And Justice for ELs, A Leader’s Guide to Creating and Sustaining Equitable Schools
By Ayanna Cooper
By Aylin Atilgan Relyea and Kara Mac Donald
Both new and veteran educational leaders are faced with providing more equity and inclusion for marginalized groups in their diverse school populations. Ayanna Cooper’s book underlines ELs’ civil rights to English language education and presents practices to deliver and sustain an environment for their academic success. Although geared towards district and school leaders, chapters address a broad range of topics and suggested practices that can also be informative for classroom teachers, as a metric of sorts to see how well their school is meeting the civil rights and educational needs of ELs.
The first chapter provides a broad overview of different terms and acronyms for English learners (ELs), the formal and very detailed definition of ELs, statistics on their success though graduation rates and taking the SAT/ACT for college entry, timeline of groundbreaking court cases and federal legislative acts that define the civil and constitutional right of ELs and the responsibilities of schools and districts. Yet the author discloses based on statements by U.S. government departments that the civil rights of ELs often go unmet, sharing ten common overlooked issues. The need to address such concerns is urgent and she insists that it must be a whole school approach that attends not only to the language needs of ELs, but also to their emotional, social, and other academic course needs. She founds this on the meaningful communication among teachers, staff, and family members to engage all in the process. This translates, among many other things, into recognizing language instruction as a right, having a culturally responsive curriculum, hiring appropriate staff and offering them professional development, fostering a culture of equity, and developing trust, transparency and respect for cultural and linguistic diversity within the school and community. The author offers eight essential questions as guidance for leaders to begin to have action-oriented questions that start at the most fundamental level (i.e. how many ELs are in the school, in which grades are ELs, what are the proficiency levels of ELs), but in her experience in working with school leaders this most basic information is not known. By answering the eight questions, leaders are directly addressing the common overlooked civil rights issues presented earlier in the chapter and this insight offers a sharper lens to understand their school’s EL programs.
Chapter two examines EL program models, as programs with the same name can be very different and this leads to less transparency in what a school program is offering. Also, decisions as to why an EL is placed in one program over the other may not be known or documented, and school leaders may not have an awareness of why such decisions were made nor of the placement criteria of school’s EL program. Seven program models with respect to the related grade levels (i.e. K-8, K-12) are examined, with a description of the program model and the projected outcomes. The program models examined are: ESL, Cotaught, Small Group Push-In, Small Group Pull-Out, Bilingual Education, Dual Language, and Sheltered Instruction. Program model considerations are presented through example scenarios, with the principal take-away that EL programs needs to reflect students’ needs in the design and delivery. Yet oftentimes they are not and school leaders may not know why particular program structures exist or even particular details of why, or what is offered to ELs. The author presents three essential questions that school leaders need to be able to answer regarding their program model/s. And once an appropriate model is identified, specifically qualified educators need to be hired to do the appropriate positions, matched with ongoing professional development and reflective practice. And the essential need for established avenues for ongoing communications with parents/guardians is discussed for program success, with the federal criteria for translators when needed to avoid inaccuracy and/or conflicts of interest. The chapter closes by sharing why parents/guardians may opt out of EL support services and again, it is the school leader that is responsible for knowing everything about ELs enrolled in the school, even those that opt out, why they opted out, and proper documentation needs to be maintained.
Chapter three discusses the importance of teacher evaluation and addresses the need to create equitable teaching evaluation systems to support teachers of English learners. The author brings forth the importance of creating engaging dialogs between teachers who teach ELs and teacher evaluators that in turn will create more effective evaluations. To enable this, the author emphasizes the necessity to have pre-evaluation and post-evaluation meetings before teacher evaluations. In this chapter, principles that are crucial for equitable teaching evaluation practices for EL students and students with disability are highlighted. Guiding principles of committing to equal access for all learners, preparing to support diverse learners, reflective teaching using evidence-based strategies, and building culture of collaboration and community, and applying them to teacher evaluation systems, rubrics, and practices that support diverse learner achievement are explained in detail. It is suggested that application of these principles will increase achievement of diverse learners. The author also claims that school leaders need to be trained to conduct effective EL teacher evaluations and mentions asset-based questions leaders can ask in their pre- and post-observation conversations. In addition, school leaders can collect information on how teachers use ELP data and help teachers articulate this use.
The author also points out that equitable teacher evaluations are based on having conversation beyond the prescribed teacher evaluation rubrics. She provides a list of pre-determined non-negotiable “look fors” for evaluation, observation rubric, or checklist, in both formal and informal classroom visits and provides information on each “look for” that explains their importance. The chapter includes useful checklists for Self-Assessment for Teachers of English Learners and Teacher and Instructional Coaches, Preservice Teacher Preparation for Advocacy that school leaders, teachers, and professionals in the field can utilize. The chapter closes by emphasizing the value of pre- and post-evaluations conversations in which both school leaders and teachers can discuss what they need to know, what they expect, and what their students need, which create guidelines for EL instruction, pedagogy, and student needs. It is suggested that teacher development with a focus on linguistic equity will lead school leaders to be informed and feel empowered.
Chapter 4 emphasizes the necessity of professional learning (PL) and claims it must be job embedded and long term. It is stated that PL is an effective differentiated approach that aims to meet the specific needs of the students as opposed to the one-size-fits-all approach that does not cater for diversity of needs. The collaboration of all that are involved in education from the district leadership to teachers who directly teach ELs is mentioned as vital for creating effective teaching strategies that foster student excellence and academic achievement that recognizes cultural diversity. Action steps for school leaders to support academic achievement sustaining a long-term, job embedded PL are mentioned. The action steps that are further explained are preparing an EL PL needs assessment, evaluating past and ongoing PL as it relates to ELs, custom designing PL based on the needs assessment, applying flexibility to adjust PL goals and outcomes as needed, and creating options for sustainability. It is stated that once school leaders have the data from a PL needs assessment, they can create custom PLs for their schools and make instruction decisions that would help ELs to close the achievement gaps and serve the needs of linguistically diverse leaders.
The chapter also emphasizes the importance of data-driven discussions in PL and pedagogy. It talks about understanding the data and how it should be presented for various audiences. It also focuses on the need to interpret data correctly, which might require educators to be trained in data analysis. It is strongly argued that data analysis is crucial in implementing instructional pedagogies. It is articulated clearly that the English proficiency, grade levels of proficiency of students, and expectations are important in adjusting PL plans as these are very important factors for meeting the needs of EL students and teachers for ongoing school achievement. In addition, school leaders are encouraged to have an asset-based approach towards their EL population, having an informed perspective of students’ thoughts, cultures, and values in support of culturally responsive pedagogies.
In addition, it is stated that PL is necessary and a civil right issue for students, teachers, and school leaders, and that EL programs should be provided with personnel, resources, and PL training that would ensure the effective running of the program. The chapter closes by stating that setting up and sustaining a PL with an emphasis on EL students depends on the vision and mission of the school. It is important to note that the chapter encloses a very useful list of organizations that provide professional learning and host conferences and provides a reflection question as to how to create one’s own PL that professionals can benefit from.
This chapter, five, affirms that to create equitable schools it is essential to embed the policy that school principals foster relationships with students’ linguistically diverse families to ensure positive outcomes for ELs. It is stated that collaboration with families of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds enables effective education, and marginalization of families should be avoided. Also, suggestions on how families can be reached and informed more about their children’s school activities are provided. The terms that the school uses should be defined clearly to families of EL students. The chapter acknowledges the importance of translators and interpreters in school-family communication and informs of the required translation of documents in all languages represented within a school community by law. It further notes that families should receive notification of all documents and notices that the school wants to share about the student and school for effective communication. The obligation to create anti-bullying policies for racial equity, respect for diversity, and active inclusivity is highlighted. In addition, supporting school staff with ELs is emphasized for more culturally and linguistically equitable schools. The chapter ends by putting an emphasis on making the best decisions for students, as communicated by parents, at the center of any decision for their success by creating inclusive and equitable schools.
In closing, each chapter presents a common scenario that ELs experience that reflect a gap in EL educational practices, with “what would you do” questions, and then, the author’s recommended approach to how to address the issues and resolve the issue/s related to the gap. This structure makes the book highly accessible and offers district and school leaders practical advice and approaches to addressing the issues in their context. The approaches and recommendations presented are not intended to be a one size fits all solution, as each context’s dynamics will determine how the books’ content is manifested in practice.