Page 343

11—
Priorities for Research

Our survey of research on English-language learners and programs designed to serve them has led to a broad range of recommendations for research directions and priorities based on the substantive and methodological strengths and weaknesses in each of eight topical areas (Chapters 2 through 9) and in the research infrastructure (Chapter 10). Worthy as these recommendations are in their own right, the process of priority setting for an overall research agenda requires examining their comparative merit in light of our present state of knowledge and educational needs. We begin by setting forth the principles that have guided our identification of research priorities and provide coherence to our proposed agenda. We then present the identified priorities that apply to each of these principles and steps that can be taken toward their implementation.

Principle 1: Extension of Existing Theories and Methodologies. Priority should be given to important topics to which insufficient attention has been paid, but for which there already exist promising theories and research methodologies so that sound research can be conducted in the immediate future.

Progress in research is often made through a relatively simple extension of the theories and methodologies developed within one domain to another. The field of second language acquisition, for example, evolved primarily through the application of developments in the field of first-language acquisition. The advantage of such a strategy is that progress can be rapid. In addition, this approach has the potential to attract new researchers into the field of language-minority education



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 343
Page 343 11— Priorities for Research Our survey of research on English-language learners and programs designed to serve them has led to a broad range of recommendations for research directions and priorities based on the substantive and methodological strengths and weaknesses in each of eight topical areas (Chapters 2 through 9) and in the research infrastructure (Chapter 10). Worthy as these recommendations are in their own right, the process of priority setting for an overall research agenda requires examining their comparative merit in light of our present state of knowledge and educational needs. We begin by setting forth the principles that have guided our identification of research priorities and provide coherence to our proposed agenda. We then present the identified priorities that apply to each of these principles and steps that can be taken toward their implementation. Principle 1: Extension of Existing Theories and Methodologies. Priority should be given to important topics to which insufficient attention has been paid, but for which there already exist promising theories and research methodologies so that sound research can be conducted in the immediate future. Progress in research is often made through a relatively simple extension of the theories and methodologies developed within one domain to another. The field of second language acquisition, for example, evolved primarily through the application of developments in the field of first-language acquisition. The advantage of such a strategy is that progress can be rapid. In addition, this approach has the potential to attract new researchers into the field of language-minority education

OCR for page 343
Page 344 because it gives them opportunities to extend their work in new ways that are just different enough to be interesting. Principle 2: Population Coverage. Priority should be given to addressing important gaps in population coverage, such as certain age or language groups, for whom the applicability of current findings from a more limited population can be tested. The great majority of existing research is geared toward the early elementary grades and English-language learners of Spanish background. This distribution is a fairly accurate reflection of the realities of student demographics. However, research efforts should not be driven purely by the present demographic distribution of the subject population, since the demographics of immigration frequently change. More generally, our quest for knowledge should be geared toward understanding processes specific to particular subpopulations, as well as those that apply across subpopulations. By testing theories in different populations, we are better able to gauge their generality. Principle 3: Questions of Strong Interest to Particular Constituencies. Priority should be given to legitimate research questions that are of strong interest to particular constituencies, such as educators, policymakers, and the public at large. The interests of multiple constituencies that are concerned about the education of English-language learners should be incorporated into the selection of priority areas for research. We do not imply here that questions ill suited for empirical inquiry should be included or that technical issues related to theory, methodology, data analysis, and interpretation should be decided by nonresearchers. Rather, we believe that research on questions of high interest to those most involved with programs for English-language learners would stand the best chance of having a practical impact. We also believe research that is owned by a diversity of constituencies and not just by the research community or advocates for a particular viewpoint would have the best chance to thrive with respect to public confidence and, ultimately, funding. Principle 4: Research Capacity Building. Priority should be given to endeavors that would build the nation's capacity to conduct high-quality research on English-language learners and programs designed to serve their needs. Successful research efforts, in addition to providing answers to complex problems, would help build confidence among constituencies and funders in language-minority research, and in education research more generally. Infrastructure

OCR for page 343
Page 345 problems that pose barriers to the conduct of high-quality research are identified in Chapter 10 of this report. These include the capacity of both the funding agencies and the field more generally to develop and carry out a coherent and high-quality research agenda that is strong enough to rise above the politics of this area. Research Priorities Principle 1: Extension of Existing Theories and Methodologies Among the topics that are of high importance and to which existing theories and methodologies can be applied are content area learning, second-language English literacy development, intergroup relations, and the social context of learning. Content Area Learning Content area learning has been neglected in research on English-language learners, primarily because discussions about bilingual education typically put the issue of the language of instruction in the foreground and content area learning in the background. There is very little fundamental research on this topic with English-language learners, but our review, focusing on the areas of subject matter specificity, multiple forms of knowledge, and the role of prior knowledge, has raised some important hypotheses. The methodology in this area comes from cognitive science, attempting to understand deep representations of knowledge through a combination of procedures (e.g., observation, protocols, experimental manipulation), and it can be applied quite readily to the problem of content learning among English-language learners. This line of research would enable us to answer questions such as the following: What role does English-language proficiency level play in content area learning? Are there modifications to the language used by teachers that can make complex subject matters accessible even to second-language beginners? What are the effects of English-language learners on teachers of specific subjects and their classrooms? To what extent does learning complex material in a particular language require having content-specific structures in that language? In addition, the robustness of cognitive science as a field promises to bring an infusion of new talent into the study of language-minority education (Principle 4). Second-Language Literacy Second-language literacy has received somewhat more attention than content area learning, but certainly not enough to provide definitive answers about its predictors or other fundamental questions. As we have seen, the field of first-language

OCR for page 343
Page 346 literacy is in some disarray from internal paradigmatic divisions. Nevertheless, that work can provide a strong foundation for addressing important questions about second-language literacy, such as the necessary basis for its development and the optimal literacy instruction, given student background. Indeed, work on second-language literacy can have the beneficial effect of invigorating scholarship on literacy in general. Important questions include the following: What is the nature of the relationship between language proficiency and literacy skill, as well as between first- and second-language literacy skill? What is optimal English literacy instruction for children of different ages, those with different native languages, those whose native language is not written, or those whose parents are not literate in English? Can literacy be used as a route to language learning, and if so under what circumstances and with what consequences? Intergroup Relations The question of intergroup relations with regard to the social status of English-language learners has not received much attention, perhaps because the question is so controversial in bilingual education as a result of criticisms that bilingual programs segregate and stigmatize these students. This neglect is unfortunate because the social climate in schools can undermine even the best of academic programs. Existing research, based primarily on the relationship between African Americans and whites, indicates that curricular and pedagogical interventions can help break down categorization, create superordinate groups, and enable students to develop more positive attitudes and perceptions regarding students from different groups. Much of this research was done prior to the large influx of new immigrant groups from Asia and Latin America. Given the existence of theoretical and methodological frameworks for examining intergroup relations, the following sorts of questions might productively be explored: What are the consequences of status differences among the languages children speak for their intergroup and interpersonal relations? How do teachers' perceptions of the status of children's languages influence their interactions with, expectations for, and behavior toward those children? What roles do English proficiency level and choice of language use serve in social comparisons among language-minority students? Do children form perceptions of others based on native-language use or English proficiency? Social Context of Learning Research that has examined language-minority students in the context of their communities and homes has enhanced our understanding of the abilities and knowledge students bring to classrooms and the socialization practices that shape their development. Drawing on this work, many educators incorporate knowledge

OCR for page 343
Page 347 about students' homes and communities into their instruction to increase the students' academic potential. Much of the current knowledge is based on research using qualitative and interpretive frameworks. These methodologies need to be supported and amplified through studies using systematic sampling and quantitative measures. For example, studies of innovations that lead to stronger connections among language-minority parents, community members, and school personnel and the effect of these innovations on the attitudes and understanding of all involved have been developed primarily by those who hold interpretive perspectives. Further exploring these important developments from the perspective of quantitative evaluation, including an examination of social and educational outcomes, could extend this field in important ways. It should be noted that this and indeed all four research areas applying Principle 1 have direct program application potential. As interventions are developed, the recommendations from Chapter 6, on program evaluation, will need to be applied: the interventions should be developed based on theory, they should be easy to distinguish, and they must be carefully studied, followed by rigorous evaluation of the outcomes. Principle 2: Population Coverage Incorporating particular subpopulations into research not only results in answers to questions of importance to those groups, but also allows us to see whether theories and principles established for certain populations apply to others. Even if they do not, theory is informed and improved. Underrepresented populations in research include young children in preschool and early programs, older students with little or no formal education, older students formerly classified as having limited English proficiency, language groups other than Spanish, and English-language learners with disabilities. Young Children in Preschool The linguistic, cognitive, and social/emotional development of children in preschool programs needs more attention. The second-language acquisition literature has not addressed this age group adequately because their native language is still developing, and therefore they are not considered pure cases of second-language acquisition (usually considered to be after age 5). Although the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families (Department of Health and Human Services) has addressed very young children, mostly through descriptive studies of Head Start programs, these children have been missed by most Department of Education research and evaluation efforts because they do not fall within the K-12 range. Given the large number of English-language learners in this age range, heavily represented in Head Start, this is a high-priority research area.

OCR for page 343
Page 348 Older Students with Little or No Formal Education One group of students not well represented in research is those who immigrate to the United States at a later age, such as in middle or high school. Of particular concern are those students who received little or no formal education in their country of origin. In recent years, schools have reported this to be a growing concern. The most important questions for this group are in the areas of English-language acquisition, the development of literacy, and content area learning. Older Students Formerly Classified As Having Limited English Proficiency Middle and secondary school students who are no longer classified as having limited English proficiency need to be studied. They are important for several reasons. First, we know very little about the academic and social needs of students who are exited from special programs, since most evaluations of programs stop at the point when students leave them. Information on students' long-term development can provide important insights into ways of providing them with continuing support. Second, if a school or community chooses to emphasize native-language maintenance, attention to these students is important because at this point they are bilingual, yet this is the age when social pressure strongly works against the native language. Most of the programs for the development and maintenance of the native language have focused on the elementary grades, but programs to support high levels of bilingualism at the middle and secondary levels may be just as important. Language Groups Other Than Spanish Language groups other than Spanish—roughly one-quarter of English-language learners—have been inadequately represented in research. Studies of basic learning processes, programs, and communities that examine linguistically heterogeneous samples, as well as in-depth inquiries into specific language groups other than Spanish, are needed. Increasing numbers of classrooms have multiple language groups; hence research and development conducted in all-Spanish settings may not apply. Moreover, it is possible that, at least initially, children's native languages can exert subtle effects on their learning of content. For example, Spanish-speaking children score higher on National Assessment of Educational Progress vocabulary items that have Spanish cognates (such as "fiesta") than would be predicted by their overall performance on the assessment. Finally, teacher expectations and school effects are related to student characteristics, including ethnic background. Hence, research involving students of non-Latino ethnic backgrounds is needed to test various hypotheses about the relationship of various multicultural artifacts to schooling processes.

OCR for page 343
Page 349 English-Language Learners with Disabilities According to a recent report prepared by the Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (1993), there are very limited data on numbers of English-language learners with disabilities. The report estimates that 228,000 English-language learners could benefit from special education services.1 Another estimate (Baca and Cervantes, 1989) suggests that approximately 1 million English-language learners also exhibit learning problems that may qualify them for placement in special education programs. According to Baca (1990), programs for English-language learners with disabilities have been refined and institutionalized since 1985. However, data from the Department of Education suggest that there are still gaps in meeting the needs of these students. Few states have established procedures and guidelines for delivering educational services to this population; very few data are available on effective assessment and instructional practices for these students; and studies conducted in California, Colorado, and Florida indicate a dearth of available bilingual special education and related services personnel. The Department of Education report concludes with the following statement: Additional data and studies would help to develop procedures that: distinguish LEP students from LEP students with disabilities, yield unbiased assessments of students need, and result in IEPs [individual educational plans] that assist LEP students with disabilities in reaching their potential. In addition, evaluative studies of materials and curricula developed specifically for LEP students with disabilities are needed in order to assist service providers in meeting the needs of this unique population (p. 30). There is also a need for teacher education programs across the country that would offer courses specifically geared to educators who work with these children. Principle 3: Questions of Strong Interest to Particular Constituencies Principles 1 and 2 appeal to the researcher's perception of important problems. On the other hand, there are many questions about language-minority education that are of particular interest to various groups, including Congress, the administration, and state and local education administrators; the public and the media; advocates for equity; advocates for specific programs; foreign-language advocates; and teachers. It is important to note that these constituencies are not in a position to evaluate the relative technical merits of the research instrumentation; this is a matter to be addressed through a strong system of peer review, as addressed in our recommendations in Chapter 10. But constituency groups are 1The estimate of 228,000 comes from multiplying the Department of Education's estimate of 1.9 million school-age English-language learners by the department's estimate that 12 percent of all school-age children have disabilities.

OCR for page 343
Page 350 critical in developing an awareness among the public and Congress that the questions being addressed by research are meaningful to people outside the research community. Congress, the Administration, and State and Local Education Administrators The key questions for Congress and education administrators are unlikely to change: How can we help English-language learners meet high performance standards? Are the programs effective? As our review has amply demonstrated, these are deceptively simple questions with no easy answers. Researchers need to reformulate the questions as follows: What programs, and more importantly what program components, are effective in a given context? How do we make existing programs better? In this report (Chapter 6), we have argued that evaluations of the relative efficacy of broad programs that are loosely implemented in a wide range of settings are likely to yield little information about what interventions are effective. Lessons drawn from the failures of past program evaluation practices point to the importance of strong theory, clearly articulated program goals, successful implementation of program components, comparison group equivalence, and measurement of outcomes. At the same time, we have urged that local evaluations focus on determining whether programs are properly implemented and on fine tuning those programs so they become more responsive to the needs of children, schools, and communities. Most of the components for successful evaluation are within reach of current knowledge, with the major exception of the assessment of content area learning, as discussed below in the section on assessment. The Public and the Media Embedded in questions about program effectiveness are larger questions raised by the public and the media about English-language learners and bilingual education. Are the children learning English? Are school programs doing all they can to accomplish this? Are bilingual education programs serving to segregate English-language learners rather than integrate them into the mainstream? Should public funds be used to support the development of ethnic languages, and if so, which ones? These are concerns frequently raised in newspaper editorials, op-eds, and letters to the editor. Advocates for Equity Advocates for equity are concerned about access to resources: Do English-language learners have access to good instruction and to resources such as Title I and Goals 2000 funding? Are there differences in opportunities to learn? What

OCR for page 343
Page 351 barriers are posed that interfere with the learning of English-language learners? Are students being given the optimum instruction for learning English and subject matter knowledge and skills? Advocates for Specific Programs Different parties in the debate about program types would emphasize different questions to be pursued, although all sides would acknowledge the difficulties of any endeavor that assumed program categories to be monolithic or static. Moreover, all stand to benefit from a less idealized and political view of programs, founded in research-based knowledge and emphasizing that the best programs will consist of a blend of approaches. There are large areas of commonality across advocacy groups: all parties are interested in how the children acquire English; they are also uniformly interested in finding out what happens to students who receive no special services. However, critics of bilingual education see a lack of research on effectiveness within the range of programs that use only English, while advocates for bilingual education would prefer to see such research in the context of bilingual programs, especially those that promote the full development of both languages. Foreign-Language Advocates Advocates for foreign-language education have a different set of priorities. Their concern is not the learning of English, but the development of national capacity in languages other than English. They see the bilingualism attainable by language-minority students as setting high standards for the level of proficiency desirable in foreign languages. Those taking this perspective advocate research focused on programs that fully develop the native languages of English-language learners as well as English and explore the optimum age at which such programs can be introduced. They also view language minorities as a resource for native speakers of English and advocate research on two-way bilingual programs and the social relationships that may form between the groups in such programs. Teachers The primary interest of educators immediately involved in teaching English-language learners is in getting helpful ideas and practical guidance for accomplishing their short- and long-term objectives. Questions noted above about language acquisition, content area learning, and intergroup relations are of interest to teachers, but framed around prototypes and examples of particular cases, rather than generalities and principles. The anthropological tradition in education research, especially the ethnographic work in classrooms, schools, and communities, has struck a sympathetic chord among those in everyday practice by vividly

OCR for page 343
Page 352 illustrating generalizations and by offering contradictions to conventional wisdom. Teachers are interested as well in knowing what programs work and under what conditions. Also useful to this group would be research on assessment addressing its purposes for placement and instruction. Principle 4: Research Capacity Building One approach to the development of research capacity and the improvement of quality is through the nurturing of new theoretical approaches, new methodological developments, or cross-fertilization among fields that would be exciting enough to draw fresh talent into research in this area or to create a productive mix of researchers from different theoretical and methodological orientations. As an example, we have mentioned above the problem of content area learning. Stated more generally, this problem belongs to the area of cognitive science, including cognitive psychology, artificial intelligence, linguistics, philosophy, neuroscience, and anthropology. Work in this intersection area, applied to language-minority students and English-language learners, would tap into the talent pool from a currently vibrant area of research. One promising approach to research is the combining of interpretive analysis and traditional analytic paradigms. Another approach to developing research capacity is through the improvement of coordination and collaboration across institutional boundaries to solve complex problems. We identify six areas: early childhood education (preschool) and development, characteristics of effective practice, assessment, program evaluation, teacher education and professional development, and the distinction between student needs related to English proficiency and those related to poverty. Although the institutions specifically mentioned in this section are at the federal level or federally funded, state education agencies, and in some cases foundations, would also be interested in these areas. Combining of Interpretive Paradigms with Analytic Paradigms In many areas of research we have reviewed, there are important roles to be played by ethnographers and qualitative researchers, both as sources of new interpretations and as additional checks on the validity of the claims made by the research. For example, our discussion of content area learning (Chapter 3) points to the power of a multimethod, problem-oriented approach that includes detailed interpretive analysis. Complex problems require a clever combination of diverse methodologies. Likewise, our discussion of program evaluation (Chapter 6) and effective schools research (Chapter 7) emphasizes the important complementary relationships among theory-based intervention, documentation of program implementation, and rigorous measurement of outcomes. In the area of professional development, it is crucial to use a variety of methods to assess teacher competencies, including teacher assessments, as well as empirical studies to determine the relationship between knowledge gained in professional development and its

OCR for page 343
Page 353 implementation in the classroom. These and other areas provide fertile ground for collaboration between the interpretive and positivistic traditions and should be given priority as a potential means of attracting new research talent. In addition, the involvement of interpretive, case-oriented researchers would make the work more useful from the perspective of teachers and educators, as discussed above under Principle 3. Early Childhood Education and Development We have already mentioned the linguistic and social development of young children in preschool programs as a priority under Principle 2. Effective research on this topic would require collaboration between the Head Start Office in the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families and the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) Early Childhood Institute. In addition, basic child development research, such as extension of the child language database (CHILDES), could be supported by the National Institute for Child Health and Development or the National Science Foundation (NSF). Characteristics of Effective Practice Chapter 7 identifies ways of improving learning opportunities for English-language learners. This is the domain of interest of the OERI national centers and regional laboratories that specialize in cultural diversity and second-language learning, of the Office of Reform and Dissemination (ORAD) at OERI, and of the Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs (OBEMLA) through its basic programs. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) also collects information pertinent to the learning environment, for example, through its Schools and Staffing Survey and its longitudinal data sets. Finally, although the opportunity-to-learn provisions of Goals 2000 have been stifled because of political controversy, the law continues to provide the authority to offer grants for developing model opportunity-to-learn standards. Assessment Assessment of student achievement is discussed throughout this report and in particular in Chapter 5. Answering the questions raised in our discussion of assessment issues would require coordination of effort among a number of agencies, some of which are legally required to provide for the inclusion of English-language learners in assessments (NCES, under the Perkins Act, as discussed in Chapter 9, and OBEMLA, under Title VII2). Groups with an important stake in 2OBEMLA is required to ensure that all data collection by the Department of Education includes the collection and reporting of data on limited-English-proficient students.

OCR for page 343
Page 354 a research and development effort on assessment include NCES; the OERI National Institute on Student Achievement, Curriculum, and Assessment; the Planning and Evaluation Service within the Office of the Under Secretary; and the National Institute on the Education of At-Risk Students. Program Evaluation The importance of improving the evaluation of programs for English-language learners was noted above under Principle 3 in the discussion of public interest in program accountability. Nurturing new approaches to evaluation would be in the interest of OBEMLA, both in its joint activities with the Planning and Evaluation Service on the evaluation of program categories and in its individual evaluations of grantee performance. Better program evaluation is also in the strong interest of ORAD, which requires program outcome data to certify programs as promising or effective. Teacher Education and Professional Development Chapter 8 indicates the importance of a research base on approaches to the preparation and development of teachers of English-language learners. Theoretical coherence is important not just in the development of teacher education programs, but also in the evaluation and continued development of teachers. Teacher education and professional development for teachers specializing in English-language learners are supported by Subpart 3 of Title VII and administered by OBEMLA. At the same time, Title I, through Compensatory Education Programs (Office of Elementary and Secondary Education), supports professional development. This program serves a large number of English-language learners, especially those in high-poverty schools. Finally, OERI does not have an institute directly addressing teacher development, but the functions cut across the institutes. Distinction Between Needs Related to English Proficiency Development and Poverty We have seen repeatedly that most English-language learners also live in families and communities with highly stressful economic and social conditions. The ways in which these overlapping conditions operate and interact need to be examined so that programs targeting poverty and those targeting limited English proficiency can be better coordinated. Within the Department of Education, this would involve coordinating the efforts of OBEMLA and the Title I Office. Across departments, the coordination would especially involve the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Housing and Urban Development.

OCR for page 343
Page 355 Implementation Of The Priorities Chapter 10 reviews infrastructure problems that have plagued research on language-minority education. The complex and serious questions that need to be answered in the area are in severe imbalance with the human resources available to address them. Providing opportunities for cutting-edge work on an important problem is one of the best ways to bring fresh talent into a field. Thus, the field of language-minority education would be well served by investments in promising areas of research that would attract new talent by highlighting exciting questions, by offering resources to develop networks of researchers, by making funding available for work in the area, and by offering predoctoral and postdoctoral opportunities for young scholars. We have also seen ample evidence of poor coordination and collaboration across research funding agencies. Almost any complex problem in this area cuts across the functional categories of basic and applied research, program evaluation, and statistical estimates of population parameters. Some of the work has immediate benefits, and some is long term and more indirect in its practical impact, but it is the full portfolio of work that gives society the real benefits of its investment in research. Issues in language-minority education must be addressed in the work of offices and agencies beyond OBEMLA, as well as that of states and foundations. Moreover, if we cannot agree on what good research is and what the priorities are, and if the major funders cannot coordinate their efforts, pressing problems will remain inadequately addressed. Improving the quality of the research will also require improvements in the way agendas are established, proposals are reviewed and selected, and results are synthesized and disseminated. Aside from human resource and structural problems, our review suggests the importance of attitudinal changes in building a collective will to address the complex problems in the field in the face of a troubled history. Undoubtedly, excellence is a long-term goal. We now suggest some concrete steps that might be taken in the short term to develop a long-term vision. 1. As argued in our recommendations in Chapter 10, the coordinating lead in the field should be taken by a new Department of Education Advisory Committee on Research on English-language Learners that would develop a comprehensive system for integrating the review and synthesis of new knowledge into the agenda-setting and dissemination processes. Its charge would be Department of Education-wide, although it should also address and complement the work being funded outside the department; for example, it should foster coordination among the Early Childhood Institute at OERI, the Head Start Office, and the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families, as well as collaboration with states with large numbers of English-language learners. Immediate topics to be addressed by this committee would be the areas identified in this chapter that are ripe for coordination:

OCR for page 343
Page 356   early childhood (preschool) education, characteristics of effective practice, student assessment, program evaluation, teacher education, and the effects of limited English proficiency and poverty. The substantive topics for research to be pursued within each of these areas would be those identified under Principles 1 and 2 above. 2. It is difficult to influence the agendas of agencies outside the Department of Education, especially NSF; the National Institute for Childhood Health and Development; the National Institute for Mental Health; and the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families. Our review has revealed that very little research conducted by those agencies has involved explicit attention to the English-language learner population. As discussed earlier, the most positive way of achieving greater inclusion of these students in research is through the incentives of achieving greater scientific accuracy and expanding and generalizing current work. The proposed Department of Education Advisory Committee on Research on English-language Learners should sponsor conferences and other activities jointly with other agencies to bring these incentives to the attention of researchers. Less positive, but perhaps necessary at some point, would be a more systematic inquiry by Congress into the extent of exclusion of English-language learners from the research, followed by Congressional action if the situation should warrant. This action might include incentives for more work in this area. 3. Other areas the committee identified for strengthening include the peer review process used to fund proposals; the processes available for monitoring research, accumulating knowledge, and developing consensus in given fields; and mechanisms for the dissemination of research results. The National Educational Research Policy and Priorities Board is overseeing improvements in these areas. The proposed Advisory Committee on Research on English-language Learners should play an important role in ensuring that the funding and conduct of research on English-language learners are included in this department-wide agenda. 4. The National Educational Research Policy and Priorities Board is currently taking a comprehensive look at OERI's system of peer review. This is an essential activity to address the issue of research quality. As Chapter 10 suggests, the peer review system at the National Institutes of Health provides a good model, but before one could import this model wholesale, constraints that characterize the LEP area would need to be addressed, such as the heterogeneity of research paradigms, poor articulation of the relationship between theory and practice, and the small scale of funding. Moreover, peer review would have to be seen as much more than a bureaucratic instrument—as a major vehicle of communication between funders and the field, and a process through which principles about research priorities and technical quality of research are clearly articulated and applied to proposals. The current effort by the National Educational Research Policy and Priorities Board should be augmented by two additional efforts. One would be to look at uses of peer review throughout the Department of

OCR for page 343
Page 357   Education, not just within OERI. Such an expansion would be within the board's authority to advise on research activities across the department. The other would address how to ensure expertise on English-language learner issues throughout the peer review process. This concern could be constructively addressed by the proposed Department of Education Advisory Committee on Research on English-language Learners. 5. Population coverage issues are relevant to any research agency that purports to generalize its findings, but fall most immediately within the interests of NCES. As recommended in Chapter 9, NCES should develop a common framework within which student and program data can be collected for national statistics. This framework could be extended to accommodate samples from all studies involving English-language learners and LEP programs. NCES could take the initiative to monitor the population representativeness of all funded research conducted by federal, state, and private agencies, and report to the Advisory Committee on Research on English-language Learners regarding important gaps in coverage. 6. NCES should work with states and with all offices that collect data on English-language learners to use a common definition of limited English proficiency. NCES should also lead an empirical effort to develop operational measures of limited English proficiency that can be used for a variety of purposes, ranging from large-scale assessment, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, to program-based and basic research studies, such as those funded through OERI. NCES should also take the lead in developing procedures for incorporating English-language learners into large-scale assessments, including modifications in assessments and assessment procedures. 7. OBEMLA has been a consistent and all too often lone voice in advocating research on English-language learners and LEP programs. Unfortunately, its capacity to manage research has been inconsistent and a frequent source of controversy. Nevertheless, OBEMLA is the valid channel through which the publicinterest questions about English-language learners and programs that serve them, such as those identified above under Principle 3, are directed and filtered. OBEMLA should therefore take steps to identify itself as the conduit through which such public concerns are expressed. For example, OBEMLA could conduct consensus-building activities that would bring educators and advocates together with researchers to identify important questions for research investment. These areas for research could then be further developed in conjunction with the Advisory Committee on Research on English-language Learners. 8. OBEMLA provides major support for teacher education and professional development activities through Subpart 3 of Title VII. This report has shown a major need for research to improve the education of teachers who work with English-language learners. OBEMLA should take the lead in developing and evaluating theoretically informed approaches to the development of teachers who are specialists in teaching English-language learners, as well as those who are not

OCR for page 343
Page 358   specialists, but nevertheless teach a large number of such students. Based on knowledge gained from this research, OBEMLA could take the initiative in working with the Office of Compensatory Education to develop guidance for professional development for those in Title I programs who teach these students. OBEMLA could also work with the regional educational laboratories and comprehensive regional assistance centers that provide support to teachers whose classrooms include English-language learners. OBEMLA should develop consensus-building activities with the OERI institutes, especially the Students-at-Risk Institute, to identify priority areas for research that would be pursued by the institutes toward the end of improving teacher education. OERI should fund research in these areas. 9. Another important function for OBEMLA is in the development of researchers on English-language learner issues. OBEMLA already conducts a significant share of activities in this area through its Title VII Bilingual Fellowship Programs. OBEMLA should leverage this valuable source of support to attract education researchers who have not previously worked with this population, as well as to attract researchers who have traditionally not worked in the area of education, for example by encouraging applications from both students in other educational fields and students in institutions outside of schools of education. OBEMLA should also take a lead role in coordinating with other agencies and foundations in an effort to attract and develop fresh talent in this area. 10. A more long-term role for OBEMLA is to position itself so it can better utilize information on programs and their effectiveness from its Subpart 1 programs. Over the years, thousands of projects have been funded under Title VII basic programs. These programs constitute a tremendous opportunity—not yet realized—to implement theoretically driven interventions and assess their effects in different contexts. For example, the law does not require programs to describe and justify the theories underlying their programmatic approaches. Moreover, although programs are required to conduct evaluations, these evaluations have tended to assess compliance with federal requirements, rather than to examine program effectiveness (which would, ideally, be related to theory). Given the paucity of information in the evaluations, it is difficult to use them to enrich the theory-program-outcomes process. OBEMLA should work with the Planning and Evaluation Service of the Office of the Under Secretary to implement the recommendations offered in this report for improving program evaluation (see Chapter 6). To avoid problems that have arisen in the past, the staff capacity at OBEMLA should include researchers with expertise in the use of evaluation for purposes of program development. 11. Agencies in the Department of Education that have substantial responsibility for research on minority-language and English-language learner issues, such as OBEMLA, the Planning and Evaluation Service, and OERI (including the institutes, NCES, and ORAD), should allocate resources to train current staff and recruit staff with solid research experience so that there is substantive research

OCR for page 343
Page 359   search expertise on English-language learners within the agencies. Agencies with incidental but important contact with such issues should find means to obtain the consultative expertise they need in a timely fashion. 12. States need information regarding the educational attainment of their English-language learners, how their performance compares with that of other students in the state, and which educational interventions are effective for these students. States should make efforts to include English-language learners in data gathering, to disaggregate by language status where possible in reporting, and more generally to attend to research that will improve instructional interventions for these students. States should also endeavor to improve teacher education and professional development. There are shared issues across states, and thus states would benefit as well from collaboration. 13. Foundations fund many school reform efforts, but they do not systematically attend to the inclusion of English-language learners in those efforts or to the assessment of outcomes for these students. Foundations might encourage those who conduct such efforts to address the needs of these students. In addition, foundations might fund projects that would specifically address the educational needs of English-language learners, as well as support the development of local, state, and federal policies that would enhance their education. Finally, foundations could facilitate a more coherent research agenda on English-language learner issues by setting up and supporting communication mechanisms, including ongoing networks or conferences among people who do not usually work together. Conclusion We began our report about research on the education of English-language learners with assumptions shared by this committee. To repeat, they are as follows: • All children in the United States should be able to function fully in the English language. • English-language learners should be held to the same expectations and have the same opportunities for achievement in the academic content areas as other students. • In an increasingly global economic and political world, proficiency in languages other than English and an understanding of different cultures are valuable in their own right and should be among the major goals for schools. We believe these assumptions represent broadly shared values. As we have applied our scientific expertise to evaluate the state of the art in the education of English-language learners and envisioned a research agenda for the immediate and distant future, we have been troubled by extent to which politics has constrained the development of sound practice and research in this field. Since the

OCR for page 343
Page 360 politics will persist, the demand placed on high-quality and broadly credible research becomes even more compelling. As this report has shown, considerable knowledge has already accrued, and there are ways of strengthening and building upon it. This vision can be realized through a strategic combination of theory, research, program development, evaluation, and monitoring. The committee hopes that the paths we have delineated can be followed with maximum intensity and minimum distraction. References Baca, L. 1990 Theoretical and Applied Issues in Bilingual/Cross-Cultural Special Education: Major Implications for Research, Practice, and Policy. Boulder, CO: BUENO Center for Multicultural Education. Baca, L., and H. Cervantes, eds. 1989 The Bilingual Special Education Interface. Columbus, OH: Merrill. Office of Special Education Programs 1993 To Assure the Free Appropriate Public Education of all Children with Disabilities. Fifteenth Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Appendices

OCR for page 343
Appendices

OCR for page 343