Faculty Publications

Document Type


Publication Date

April 2013

Publication Title

American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting (AERA)


Social Context of Education


In this paper we draw attention to the importance of school leadership on the academic achievement of English Learners. Furthermore, we suggest that school leaders can play a key role in advocating for equitable policies that will improve the academic achievement of English learners. For within-school factors related to student achievement, school leadership quality is second only to the effects of the quality of curriculum and teacher’s instruction (Heck & Leathwood, 2000; Leithwood and Riehl, 2003). The literature reports, however, that the influence of school leadership on student learning is not so evident in low-performing schools (Riordan, 2003). Furthermore, studies on the principal labor market, while scarce, document the unequal distribution of school leader quality. Loeb, Kalogrides, & Horng (2010), report that low-income students, students of color, and low-performing students are more likely to attend schools led by (a) novice or temporary principals, (b) do not hold advanced (master’s) degree and (c) attended less selective colleges. This uneven distribution in quality of school leadership places the students who are the focus of this paper, English Language learners, in jeopardy before they even begin the schooling process. How to improve the quality of leaders who can successfully transform schools with English Language learners is a pressing issue for everyone, including leadership preparation programs, district, state and national agencies. We posit that Principal quality in schools with English learners can be improved through a renewed focus on “Instructional Leadership” that addresses the needs of English learners. We know today that transformative change begins with effective leadership. Without vision, pedagogical knowledge, understanding and wisdom, transformation cannot succeed. Without personal and ideological clarity, a shift from a deficit school culture to a respectful and culturally inclusive one, a school (leader, teachers, staff, students, parents and community) cannot effectively transform. We propose that a re-culturing in schools will occur when school leaders: 1) Practice an advocacy stance towards English learners; 2) Improve their own knowledge base about the teaching and learning of English learners; and 3) Develop an ideological clarity that will transform schools for English learners. We propose a tri-level framework that addresses an (1) Institutional Level; (2) Pedagogical Level; and (3) Personal Level.


Paper presented as part of symposium: Latino Policy Priorities in Education: Impacting Group-Based Inequalities and Structuring Real Change.
This paper is also available in the AERA Online Paper Repository.
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