Shifting Demographics in American Education: Best Practices

By Scott Sterling

This is the last in a series focusing on the demographic changes going on in the nation’s schools. Part 1 is here and part 2 is here. This shift presents opportunities for sustained success and best practices that have been pioneered by districts and schools around the country.

Family and Community Outreach

Success in the nation’s schools often starts with community building—and that includes building cultures within schools, which can then become beacons for the surrounding community. Nowhere is this more important than in engaging minority students.

Not all cultures view education the same way. In many Latino cultures, a teacher is to be just as revered as a priest. This might sound great, but it means that many families are too intimidated to visit the school. In that situation, outreach does wonders.

Educator Gary Howard tells the story of working with the East Ramapo Central School District near New York City. The goal was to increase the cultural competence of everyone in the district. This district is so diverse that everyone comes into contact with many cultures on a regular basis.

Mr. Howard worked with the bus drivers to improve how they communicate. He led a session with all the school secretaries, frustrated at not being able to speak with the multitudes of languages that might come through their doors. In all, East Ramapo’s efforts led to training for everyone—school board members to classroom assistants. That’s the only way to make sure the community is a community.

ELL Education

When most schools and districts think about preparing for the minority-majority shift, they think ELL education programs. The truth is that there is no magic bullet. The good news is that many places around the country have had success. These are the districts in places like Texas, California, and Florida that have been minority-majority for a long time.

These districts aren’t afraid to try new things. They offer families a variety of options. This article from District Administration highlights districts trying everything—English immersion programs to pullouts, dual-language to self-contained.

The best example of this approach is from Washington County in Maryland. Only 2 percent of their population is ELL (around 500 kids), but those 500 students speak 35 different languages from 40 different nationalities. There is no one-size-fits-all in that melting pot, so they have immersion, sheltered English (ELL-friendly content instruction in English), English-only self-contained, and a pullout program.

Really, this can all be put very simply. Since minority students are now the majority, “minority education” is just “education.” School and community groups must work together to ensure that all students:

  • Enter school healthy and learn about practicing healthy lifestyles
  • Have physically and emotionally safe learning environments
  • Are actively engaged in learning and feel connected to their schools and communities
  • Has access to additional support if needed
  • Are sufficiently challenged and prepared for success in college and the global workplace

 

This is how you improve a community. It’s cliché, but it does take a village—especially when that village speaks 35 different languages.