By: Rosemary Hughes, Rebecca Reumann-Moore, Jeannette Rowland,
Joshua Lin

June 2016


In Philadelphia, a growing and increasingly diverse population of English Language Learners (ELLs) is intensifying demands on the city’s public schools as they work to meet the educational needs of these students. As in many cities across the country, educators in Philadelphia are searching for ways to more efficiently and effectively meet the needs of ELLs and close long-standing achievement gaps between ELLs and their native English-speaking peers.

As a group, ELLs are diverse, coming from a variety of native languages, cultures, and educational backgrounds, posing unique opportunities and challenges for schools. To best meet the diverse needs of these students, schools require resources and services that extend beyond those present among staff and programs within the school itself. Families and communities possess information, skills, and other resources that can help schools better learn from and meet the needs of these learners. This brief focuses on the ways family and community engagement can enhance schools’ efforts to improve outcomes for ELLs and highlights specific strategies schools can use to more effectively engage families and communities.
This brief is part of a larger project focused on better understanding the characteristics and needs of ELLs in Philadelphia’s public K-12 schools as well as how schools are serving these students. Leaders in district and charter schools commissioned the Philadelphia Education Research Consortium (PERC) to work with them on a series of studies to determine how best to meet the needs of ELLs. A qualitative study launched in November 2015, followed by a quantitative study in April 2016.

Schools with strong ELL student achievement, and whose approaches to serving them reflected an array of programmatic models, were selected to participate in the qualitative study. Specifically, we examined student growth on the Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State (ACCESS) for ELLs to identify schools whose ACCESS growth scores were categorized as ‘Reinforce’ or ‘Model’ (the two highest tiers on the district’s school performance framework). We then consulted with leadership from the Office of Multilingual Curriculum and Programs in the School District of Philadelphia to ensure the sample included adequate coverage of the various programmatic models employed throughout the district.

This brief is built on input from a wide variety of stakeholders:

  • Two interviews with Deputy Chief of Multilingual Curriculum and Programs in the School District of Philadelphia

  • Two focus groups with Multilingual Managers and one Curriculum Specialist in the Office of Multilingual Curriculum and Programs in the School District of Philadelphia

  • Interviews with administrators and/or ELL program leads at five district and four charter schools exhibiting success while serving a broad range of English Language Learners

  • Focus groups with ESL teachers and general education teachers in two district and three charter schools

  • An interview with the Bilingual Education Advisor in the Pennsylvania Department of Education