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Understanding Leadership within Comprehensive Early Childhood English Learner Reform


This is an examination of leadership within the implementation of an early learning reform model that centralizes the needs of young English Learners. The English Learner student population continues to grow in California, yet schools and districts have persistently been unable to support their learning needs. The current policy context is driven by a new set of 21st century standards in which language is situated in a more prominent and cross cutting manner. The longstanding failures of our educational systems, along with this policy setting, make this an ideal context to study reform leadership within implementation of a model that is specifically designed to support young English Learners.

This study is situated in literature focused on systemic reform, English Learner policy and reform, and a review of scholarship about the actors that operate within reforms. The concepts that frame this inquiry are rooted in the socio-political context, shared ownership and partnership, and the crafting of coherence within reform implementation. This is a critical case study of one district, Sequoia Grove School District, in its fourth year of implementation of the Sobrato Early Academic Language model. This design is most appropriate because it enables a deep and thorough examination of the leadership dimensions of reform implementation, a context-driven aspect of school change.

There are two overarching findings from this study. First, leaders are able to build a coalition embodying shared ownership and collaboration for the reform across actors, though crafting coherence appears to be particularly context specific and complex. Secondly, there are three key socio-political factors that leaders are navigating: 1) the socio-economic context related to declining enrollment; 2) the policy context of transitioning to new 21st century standards; and 3) the unrelenting influence of the accountability framework established within the No Child Left Behind era. This study is written in a time when public education’s legitimacy is being undermined at the federal level in new and extreme ways. Practitioners, policy makers, and researchers committed to understanding and improving education for English Learners should consider the deeply political nature of school improvement efforts that centralize English Learners’ needs.

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