Shaping Equity, Access, and Quality Learning for English Learners: High School Administrators' Mediation of Language Policy
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Shaping Equity, Access, and Quality Learning for English Learners: High School Administrators' Mediation of Language Policy


This dissertation brings together theory and research on educational leadership, on one hand, and theory and research on language education, on the other, to explore how school administrators mediate language policy to shape the education of students designated as English Learners. Even as federal and state policies have sought to address English Learners’ needs, persistent disparities in outcomes between English Learners and their monolingual English-speaking peers are well documented (Fry, 2007; Rumberger & Gándara, 2004; Sugarman & Geary, 2016). Much research has demonstrated that school structures and instructional practices can limit English Learners’ access to high-quality learning (Callahan, Wilkinson, & Muller, 2010; Callahan & Shifrer, 2015; Harklau, 1994; Umansky & Reardon, 2014), School leaders play important roles in implementing language policy in their local contexts and therefore in shaping English Learners’ opportunities to learn. This study explores how school leaders at two high schools mediated language policy in an effort to improve learning outcomes for English Learners. Using ethnographic methods within a multiple-case study design, I conducted observations and semi-structured interviews over the course of one school year. I drew on structuration theory, distributed leadership theory, and interpretive policy analysis to examine administrators’ leadership practice and interactions as they worked to bring about programmatic and instructional change. Findings from this study show how the administrators sought to advance their goals for English Learners by working to distribute instructional leadership over their schools; shaping the schools’ culture in ways that promoted equity; and leveraging policies, programs, and tools to spur desired change. In their work, the administrators encountered challenges related to competing logics, disconnects between school-level goals and classroom-level actions, and aspects of school culture. The findings highlight the insights that the fields of language education and educational leadership can offer to each other in research on leadership for English Learners. A leadership perspective sheds light on the institutional forces that shape administrators’ mediation of language policy, and a language perspective reveals how assumptions about language underlie their work. Both perspectives are essential for understanding school leaders’ complex roles in fostering equity and providing quality educational experiences for English Learners.

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