Three-fourths of the school system’s teenage English language learners (ELLs) are found at nine high schools in Philadelphia, most of them among the city’s most dangerous and poorest-performing.
In 2007-08, 1,675 of the 2,270 ELLs in District high schools attended Bartram, Edison, Fels, Frankford, Furness, George Washington, Northeast, Olney East, and South Philadelphia High Schools. All but Olney East are in “Corrective Action II” status under the No Child Left Behind Law, meaning they have missed their state achievement targets for at least five years.
Conversely, few ELLs go to the District’s magnet and small high schools, most of which do not offer full-fledged ESOL programming.
Last year, seven of the District's 14 most selective “special admission” high schools – including CAPA, GAMP, Masterman, and Saul – had no more than two students who are ELLs.
The concentration of ELLs in troubled urban schools is a national trend that helps explain their relatively low achievement, researchers say.
“This new pattern of segregation tends to be not just about color but also about poverty and linguistic isolation,” said a study released this summer by the Center for Immigration Studies at New York University and the Pew Hispanic Center.
“These patterns have been inexorably linked to … climates of low expectations and academic performance, reduced school resources, lower achievement, greater school violence, and higher drop-out rates,” the study said.
Consistent with this pattern, most of the nine high-ELL high schools in Philadelphia are racially and ethnically isolated, meaning that well over half of students are coming from a single ethnic background. Many are also among the city’s largest and neediest, with high percentages of students living in poverty and requiring special education.
These nine high schools contributed 20 percent of the serious disciplinary incidents in the system in 2006-07, though they enrolled only 9 percent of District students.
The NYU research showed that nationally, the segregation of ELLs is not confined to older students. The great majority of ELLs of all ages, the report found, attend large, racially isolated schools with high student-to-teacher ratios and negative, often threatening, school environments.
A hostile school climate affects the academic achievement of all students, but especially immigrants, who may be targets of harassment.
“If students are harassed or assaulted in and around the school, they are carrying this anxiety into the classroom, and learning is compromised,” said Mary Yee, a former District administrator who served as director of the District’s now-defunct Office of Family Engagement and Language Equity Services.