The Collective Responsibility of Equity for Multilingual Learners

by Altagracia H. Delgado, Executive Director of Multilingual Services in Aldine ISD

In recent years we have seen an increase in the use of equity language across the educational landscape. However, understanding what equity means and how to get to it is a little more complicated than talking about it, reading about it, or just entertaining a hashtag. Equity in education is the process of improving practices, guidelines, and methods at the school and district levels to support fairness and inclusion in academics and ensure that every child has the teachers, resources, and support they are guaranteed in order to succeed. Equity work must occur, even though it can be complicated; it is necessary to ensure that all students benefit from the full scope of the educational opportunities. However, for the equity work to really take shape, many players must come to the table to talk and compromise on the actual work that is needed. It is a collective responsibility that we owe our students. 

The continuous growth of the multilingual student population serves as an example of the need for equity in educational services for learners in need of linguistic support. With 10% of the student population identified as English language learners in the US education system, linguistic accommodations are needed in order for these multilingual learners to access tier 1 instruction. These students need to learn content in a new language while also learning the nuances of that new language. However, while this student population is on track to continue to increase, these questions remain: 

  • Do school districts have the resources available at each of their schools? 
  • Do they have teachers that can support these students? 
  • Do they have appropriate teacher training? 
  • Do they have mechanisms of support for these students’ families so that they, in turn, can support their children? 

Equity in education for multilingual learners requires us to look at these questions and ask ourselves if we have done everything in our power to support our students. We must also question if district administrators have connected at all levels to ensure that teachers and students move in multiple ways to provide educational services. Basically, equity for multilingual learners asks if we are really collaborating in synergy to ensure that all students thrive. 

So here is where the equity work begins, with a responsibility that many educators forget to see as part of their jobs: advocacy. Because if we say that we want all our students to be treated fairly and receive an individualized education that meets their needs, we must advocate for all support or resources needed. However, advocacy does not mean that we are just pointing out areas of growth in any one organization. Real advocacy means that we must proactively provide solutions to fill gaps or right the wrongs encountered. Furthermore, in this advocacy work, the pursuit of equity can encounter struggles because the education system still includes required areas of compliance. It can become tiring to continuously raise your voice and feel like you are not being heard. Nevertheless, if what is at stake is children’s access to appropriate education, then we must continue to voice our concerns and effectively provide solutions to areas of need . 

Effective advocacy requires us to find peers and work with people across the proverbial table to create avenues of communication and cross-collaboration to help people from all sides with our knowledge so we can build capacity in others, while also growing, ourselves.  

Effective advocacy requires us to help shift mindsets in organizations and keep students at the center of the work by messaging that multilingualism is an asset while also being explicit about every teacher’s role as a language teacher. 

Effective advocacy requires us to create collaborations from multiple departments at the district office level in order to ensure alignment in practices and resources so that all leaders in said districts can understand that multilingual services are not something more to do, but the embedded support that students need in order to access tier 1 instruction, bringing strategic planning and instruction to the forefront of teaching, because it is modeled at all levels of the organization. 

Effective advocacy creates the habit of checking for all students, always asking if we have everything needed to create an accessible, rigorous curriculum. Effective advocacy can create this centralized collaboration, but it does require to let go of egos in order to do what is best for kids. 

In a recent NAELPA newsletter article, I detailed the action steps Aldine ISD implemented to create an environment of equality for multilingual learners:

 “We have created a Multilingual Collective Learning Group, a group of district leaders from the classroom to the central office, that meets to learn together about best practices in bilingual education, analyzes the current practices of the district, and makes recommendations for improvement. In the spring, the elementary group crafted a vision framework for the district with expectations for all stakeholders and an implementation plan that includes resources and professional learning opportunities for teachers and staff. This framework also created a recommendation to change some of our programming for our students, moving away from a transitional bilingual program to a dual language model. The secondary groups are now meeting to refine the vision framework and delineate the work that needs to happen as our students move through our education system and prepare for life after high school.”

I am proud to say I work in a district where effective advocacy is taking place. We have honest conversations about how we address the needs of multilingual students and whether we need to look for ways to make our system better. This is a school district in which:

  • We align our services and supports to a unified instructional framework while embedding linguistic support through professional development and accessible resources for all schools,
  • We come together to point out areas of growth and find solutions as a team,
  • We  state that the goal for our students is biliteracy, and
  • We remember the words of Shirley Chisholm: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” and we continue to speak up and provide solutions for our students, because equity for multilingual learners is our collective responsibility.

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