This post continues our #NewTeacherVoices series featuring pre-service teachers. Today’s guest blogger is Chandler Lach, a junior at Eastern Michigan University studying Secondary Education English and TESOL.
There are a number of factors that are contributing to a change in demographics within K-12 schools. Professionals have noticed a trend where changing patterns of fertility and immigration have diversified the United States population. Though the implications of this trend may vary from region to region, they are universalized through our education system because each individual child is required to go to public school. This means that a diverse population in society means that our school populations become increasingly diverse.
Schools must respond to these demographic changes accordingly. The Center for Public Education (CPE) released a document which addresses these issues and the appropriate responses in 2012. The research was founded by Ron Crouch and he interprets demographic changes along with their implications, especially in their application to ELL students.
The CPE recommends that when demographic shifts, the need for highly qualified bilingual/ESL teachers will increase dramatically. Issues of equity have always been problematic within the education system, but with increased diversity, race will continue to cause conflict among schools. Crouch identified that we are growing older, we are growing more diverse, and the effects of the two is having an effect on school demographics.
One of the primary issues that educators face in communities of diverse populations is the “achievement gap.” It is considered the cause of many social problems and it boils down to this: schools are built for white, middle-class, students. Public education and standardized testing is responsible for the achievement gap among ethnic minorities and therefore wage gaps. It is cyclical in the sense that if a student is not receiving an appropriate ESL education, they will either drop out or barely graduate with a diploma only to work minimum wage jobs until retirement. They can’t afford to send their children to better schools so their children go to the same schools and receive the same education and fall subject to a poor education. Granted, this is a generalization and it varies among individuals, but the system is set up to be cyclical and disadvantages anyone that doesn’t fit the public school mold.
The implications of this is that many immigrants come to the United States to pursue an “American Dream” and better lives for their children, but they arrive in a system that is organized to disadvantage them. If they can only afford to live in urban areas (ELL students make up 14-16% of total populations in urban schools as opposed to suburban areas), then they will be put in schools that have less resources, more diversity, and more poverty. These K-12 organizations that they experience will likely lack the resources that Crouch calls for which are highly qualified bilingual/ESL teachers and ESL preschool systems. Therefore, they will not receive the diligent attention that ESL students deserve and will contribute to the achievement and wage gaps I mentioned earlier.
Crouch’s research and interpretation is inspiring to ESL teachers and other inter-disciplinary educators. We must be aware of the demographic trends that change the environment of our pedagogies. I think that as an individual that cares immensely about social foundations and changing systems of oppression, I have a philosophical obligation to take this information and apply it to my decisions. Qualified ESL teachers can’t stick their noses up at urban schools. Urban schools need the most help from the most qualified educators if we want to make steps in social justice. Change begins at the educational level. We must stand together before our U.S. public schools grow “more separate and less equal” as graduation rates and academic success indicate differences in achievement. We have an obligation to change this.