Educating Newcomers

A Research-Practice Conversation About K–12 Public Schooling for Undocumented and Asylum-Seeking Children in the United States

Published Aug 4, 2022

by Shelly Culbertson, Julia H. Kaufman, Karina Castillo, Nicole Knight

In this webinar, RAND Corporation researchers highlight findings from a recent study that estimates the number of children and youth from Central America and Mexico crossing the Southwest border of the United States from 2017 to 2019, as well as findings on policies and practice from two case study school districts in Louisiana and California. Administrators from those districts discuss their experiences and provide personal insight on the kinds of polices and resources that could best serve this population.


Shelly Culbertson

Good afternoon. Welcome, everyone. I'm Shelly Culbertson, and I'm a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation and the associate director of the Disaster Management and Resilience Program. I'm pleased to introduce the webinar for today. Today we're talking about a RAND study that we've done on education of undocumented and asylum-seeking children. So, we'll talk about both the findings of our study, and then we have two invited guests from— representing states from California and Louisiana. I also wanted to thank the sponsors of the study. The study was funded by RAND internal research done through RAND's Education and Labor Division and in collaboration with RAND's Gulf State Policy Institute.

I'm Shelly Culbertson, and my colleague Julia Kaufman is also going to be presenting research. And we have with us Karina Castillo, who is the executive director of English Language Equity & Acquisition at Jefferson Parish Schools in Louisiana, and Nicole Knight, who is the executive director of the English Language Learner and Multilingual Achievement Office at Oakland Unified School District in California.

So, our study introduced three topics, and we'll talk a bit about each of these subjects today. So first, we wanted to know how many undocumented and asylum-seeking children are in the U.S. school system, so we did modeling to find out the numbers and where they are in terms of states and districts. Second, we wanted to understand and be able to explain what the federal and state policy landscape for education of this population of children is. And then third, we wanted to understand what's happening in schools. So, how are schools educating and supporting these populations of students? And we collaborated with Karina and Nicole with case studies out of other states.

So, for our discussion today, we'll first talk a little bit about the findings of our study in terms of numbers of the children that we found and where they are and federal and state policies guiding their education. Then we'll hear from Nicole and Karina about their insights about the policy landscape. We'll then talk again about the findings from our study on what's happening in schools. What are some of the challenges? What are some of the approaches that are being used? And then turn back to Karina and Nicole. And then finally, we'd be happy to take your questions and have discussion.

So, our study is in the context of mass migration. So, mass migration is a defining feature of our day. Currently, there are about 272 million migrants in the world. These are historical highs. A migrant is someone who lives in a country other than that of their birth. In the United States, we have 51 million migrants—or immigrants—the vast majority of whom are in the United States on visas related to economic opportunities, family stays, studies, et cetera. Of those 51 million migrants, someplace between 10 million and 11 million are undocumented, meaning they entered the United States without paperwork or a visa. Relatedly, about 18 million children in the United States are either immigrants or children of immigrants. So, this is about one in four kids in the United States. And so, we included these numbers to show you really how important immigration is in American schools today and provide some of the motivation for why we chose to study these issues.

So then on the next slide, we were particularly motivated for the study because in recent years there's been a significant surge of immigration at the U.S. southwestern border at a several-decade high. And most people are coming either from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, and Mexico. And the numbers have really been increasing in the past couple of years. As you can see, 1.7 million last year, and then this year is also on track to have very high numbers.

On the next slide, there are a lot of reasons why we are seeing such increased levels of immigration across the U.S. southwest borders. One reason is economic disparity. The Northern Triangle countries in particular are in the bottom quartile globally of GDP. They're high rates of poverty. There's a lot of violence, gang violence, civil conflict, poor governance. A statistic that I find particularly shocking is that El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico are in the top ten countries globally for percentage of civilian deaths—at levels that are similar, in some cases higher, to war-torn countries in the Middle East. And then finally, there's climate change, which has been increasing disasters. Hurricanes Eta and Iota in particular were driving a lot of people northward.

So, from these causes, what we're seeing that's very different about recent surges of migration at the border is that in the past, people who were crossing the southern border were largely single adults from Mexico seeking economic opportunities. Today, we're seeing increasing numbers of families and children who are crossing the border. So, our study focused on some recent years—fiscal years 2017 through 2019—during which there were 575,000 children encountered at the U.S. southwest border. So, our team took that number and then did some modeling to try to understand, where are these children? Where are they in terms of states and districts and schools? And what we found by combining several different data sets, including data from the Department of Homeland Security, is that of the 575,000 children, as of 2020, 491,000 remained in the United States with unresolved immigration status and 321,000 were enrolled in K–12 public schools. The difference in number is because some were too small to be enrolled in schools. Some aged out of school. Some dropped out. And there were a variety of reasons.

So, with our modeling, what we found is that about 75% of these children are in ten different states. So, California, Texas, Florida, and New York each have about 20,000 children from those three years—this is not including the years prior or after—while Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Georgia, North Carolina, and Louisiana make up the remainder of the top ten list. And Los Angeles and Harris County, Texas—which has Houston—together have 50,000 recently arrived children. And in the top seven states, what this has meant is that in order to keep student-teacher or student-staff ratios the same, each state would have need to have hired at least a thousand teachers and a thousand staff. And Los Angeles and Houston would have each needed to have hired a thousand teachers each.

So, we looked at the policy landscape for education of undocumented and asylum-seeking children. And what we found is that federal law guarantees children the right to education in the United States regardless of immigration status. And this is through a series of both laws and Supreme Court cases. So, the U.S. Bill of Rights defines a right for education of minors, which was then reconfirmed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court case Plyler v. Doe requires that all states provide education regardless of immigration status. And then several other Supreme Court cases also provided a legal basis for provision of English-language learning and various other services to children.

So, in support of these laws, there are a number of federal programs that offer some help. So, the Every Student Succeeds Act in particular provides funding. So, Title I of that provides funding for disadvantaged populations, which can include immigrant students. And Title III provides additional support for English-language learners. The Department of Education also offers a number of guidance documents and tools that states and districts can use.

But at the end of the day, the states and districts are the ones that shape the students' education. States decide enrollment policies, higher education assistance, public benefits—which often can determine who can stay in school—while districts decide the enrollment processes and the education that's provided, academic supports, and nonacademic supports as well. And then now I'll pass it to Julia to talk about our case studies.

Julia Kaufman

Thanks so much, Shelly. We are really excited to have two people from school districts here to talk with you today. And I'm just going to introduce the two case studies in our report that we use to really understand how districts are responding to the challenge of newcomers and how they're supporting newcomers.

So, the first district that we looked at is Oakland Unified. It's a large school district, of course, in Oakland—urban school district. Has about 36,000 teachers at the time— 36,000 students at the time of our study and about 1,900 teachers. About a third of the students in Oakland are English-language learners. So, they offer several supports for newcomer students, including designated schools and teachers for those students, as well as three years of concentrated English-language learning supports and social workers as well as other supports in every secondary newcomer program.

The other case study that we have is with Jefferson Parish, which is right between St. Charles and Orleans parishes, and it is larger than Oakland Unified and has about a 15% and growing English-language learner population. They do provide a one-year newcomer program that provides a way for students to be acclimated and acculturated and receive survival English soft skills before they enter mainstream classrooms. And they have about 225 English-language learning teachers along with coaches and paraprofessionals who assist in mainstream classrooms.

So, now I'm going to let Nicole and Karina, our two representatives from these school districts, talk a little bit with you and really give us some really thoughtful, qualitative perspectives on how their work looks. And the first question I'm going to pose, starting with Karina, is: How are flows of undocumented children and youth impacting the work of schools and teachers? So, Karina, I'll ask you about this first for Jefferson Parish and get your thoughts.

Karina Castillo

Thank you. I appreciate being a part of the case studies and sharing the information. Something that just came up to me—it's interesting, you know, the slide of our population said 7,704, and I didn't notice this, but, you know, we're up to 9,500 English learners in Jefferson Parish. So, just from the time the data was collected in the study, it's a growing population, as— you know, in Jefferson Parish along with other school districts in the United States.

So, the first question, how are flows of undocumented children and youth impacting the work of schools and teachers? The flows are also impacting the way that our district models services for English learners. So, primarily, we've started there in establishing formalized newcomer programs. Which, in Jefferson Parish, our newcomer programs are targeting students who have been in the country for one year or less, who have been enrolled in a U.S. school for one year or less. So, having these established, formalized programs helps our middle and high schools—that's where we have our newcomer classrooms, in middle and high schools—along with the support of ESL coaches and ESL teachers and paraprofessionals. It really impacts the types of certifications required by teachers. And not only, like, ESL certification, but also just specialized skills. And providing not only academic instruction, but academic instruction that's culturally responsive and specifically to the needs of students that are entering a brand-new country for the first time. And sometimes, you know, also that formal connection to family that they're coming to live with as well. So, there's a lot of social and emotional support that a teacher has to be prepared to do on an ongoing basis, since students are entering throughout the school year. You may start with a class of ten, and it will quickly grow to 25 to 30 students depending, you know, throughout the school year.

Julia Kaufman

That's really helpful. And I think, too, I would imagine that in Nicole's case—in Oakland Unified—there are some similar things and some differences. Nicole, do you want to share some thoughts there?

Nicole Knight

Of course. Thank you, Karina. So, all of Karina's remarks resonate with Oakland's experience. I would just add that, in addition to the barriers and challenges faced by newcomers as a result of language barriers and just adjusting to a new culture and country and school system, we're talking about a population of young people and families coming from the Northern Triangle, as mentioned—Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—who have experienced unimaginable trauma in their home countries, on the journey, and upon arrival. Large numbers of unaccompanied immigrant youth—the majority 15, 16, and older—who are taking on adult responsibilities and have the need to work. Students who have severe interrupted formal education. We have young people who come. Maybe they've missed a couple years of school because it was too dangerous to go to school or they were working in their homeland. And we have students who have never been to school, and they may be arriving to us at ten years old, at 16 years old, and they're learning how to do school and doing the hard, hard work of building foundational skills along with trying to access that core instruction. And then we— there's often an assumption, because of the countries we're talking about, that all of our students are Spanish speakers. And in fact, our fastest growing language population is Mayan Mam, an indigenous language of Guatemala. Some of those students and families speak some Spanish, and some do not. And so, the assumptions we may have of the appropriate services and even program type, we have to check ourselves and really understand who it is that we're serving.

So, in terms of how this impacts us at our schools, our teachers, our leaders: Our teachers have to wear so many hats. They, of course, are teacher. They're tutor. They're curriculum writers, because we don't have proper curriculum. They are case managers. They're counselors. They're social workers. They're translators. Sometimes they're even surrogate parents. They're legal advisers. At the school level, leaders need to be thinking constantly with the fluctuations of numbers and the changing demographics and the differing needs. They need to think about, what does this mean in terms of program level? What does this mean in terms of master scheduling? What does this mean in terms of teacher assignments? Do I need to change teacher assignments midyear? Yeah, some schools, as Karina mentioned, experience wild enrollment pattern variations, taking in dozens—and sometimes even hundreds—of students throughout the school year. So, those are just some examples.

Julia Kaufman

That paints a really, really great picture for us. I'm going to ask you, Nicole, the next question on this slide, which is about policy. Sort of a high-level question, because we're going to start getting into the particular strategies in your school systems that support these populations. But let's start by asking you, what federal and state policies do you think would help you support these populations better? Nicole, I'll ask you first and then go on to Karina.

Nicole Knight

Thank you. I love this question, because ultimately the challenge that many of us are facing are really— is really about compensating for the lack of system supports, guidance structures, funding that should be available to ensure that we're truly a public school system supporting all students to thrive and prepare— be prepared for college, career, and community. Right?

So, I would say a number-one baseline thing is a common definition for newcomers, which then requires supportive data systems. You may notice that Karina and I use different—in our respective districts—different definitions for "newcomers." That is also true between Oakland and my neighboring district. So, there's no guidance or common definition of who we're talking about, which then makes it really hard to ask for funding or additional services if we can't even agree on what we're talking about and who we're talking about.

A related policy, in order to make that happen, we need to be thinking about protections for students and families in order to gather that data. And so I know this is a touchy issue, but I need to say it, that, you know, we need to— we need the types of protections for students and families that do exist in Oakland—but I know it's unique, because we're a sanctuary district in a sanctuary city in a sanctuary state—so that we can collect and maintain the data systems that inform programing, services, instruction, funding, etc.

Third, we need policies that ensure curricular frameworks and instructional material adoptions are responsive to the needs of all students, including our newcomers and our students with interrupted formal education. This might come in the form of supplements and amplification of materials that both provide access to the core content and considers the language and skills needs of our students. We need materials that are culturally responsive and asset-based, meaning that they honor what our students bring, which includes the incredible levels of sophistication and life experiences that our students have endured—and continue to—and don't treat them in any kind of deficit light.

And finally, probably obviously, we need funding to make all of this happen. And in addition to everything I've mentioned that require funding, we need funding for the types of wraparound services so that teachers and leaders can really focus on their core function, which is teaching and learning. They need to wear less hats so they can actually do their job well. And I'll be speaking to some of the strategies we employ in Oakland a bit later. But really, the only way in Oakland we're able to do the work we are is because we benefit from significant philanthropic and grant funds. These should be guaranteed entitlements and funding that we receive in order to serve all of our students and make sure it's not coming at any kind of sacrifice for all the other students we need to serve.

Julia Kaufman

Thanks, Nicole. And I know that Karina, being in Louisiana, it's a different state context with different policies. Would love to hear from you about what your thoughts are on the federal and state policies that would help you.

Karina Castillo

I agree with a lot of the things Nicole shared about all of the hats that teachers are wearing and just the common definitions. Curriculum resources that are available for newcomer students once we have a real, you know, unified definition for all of us to use. It's very hard. I mean, we're creating as well in Louisiana. And how wonderful would it be to be able to share resources with all of the states that are being impacted?

The— I can speak specifically to Louisiana around state policies for school accountability, and graduation pathways for newcomer students has been a concern for our older students entering in eighth and ninth grade, which we've seen a larger influx since 2014 of students entering— unaccompanied youth entering at, you know, 14, 15, 16 years of age and enrolling in school. And then our high schools being held to the accountability standards of graduating students within 4 to 5 years. So, it's— our kids, our teachers are doing the best that they can as far as providing accommodations and modifications to assignments, allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge. Because, like Nicole said, there's lots of assets that students come in with. Life experiences. Knowledge. Their critical thinking skills are at gifted rates sometimes, even though the language is just what has to be learned. So, allowing— our teachers are allowing our students to demonstrate their knowledge of the content in various ways, while our state accountability only uses the—we call it the LEAP 2025—like, an end-of-course assessment for high school students. So, it's very discouraging when we don't have an alternative way, a portfolio, and I know that we see that in other states like California, Texas, where students are allowed to demonstrate their knowledge in various ways.

And I mentioned this— I know I've mentioned this in conversations before, but in Louisiana, the English-learner percentage in the state is at— less than 4% of students in Louisiana are English learners. But in Jefferson Parish schools, which resides in the greater New Orleans area, we're at 15% at the time of the study and now at 17% English learners. So, it's— there's a difference as far as prioritizing at the state level, I think, for— just in general, we see our English-learner population in Louisiana as very small. However, specific school districts in the state have the largest— I mean, we have one-third of the English-learner population found in Louisiana in Jefferson Parish schools. So, just state policies around that would definitely— how it impacts specific school districts is definitely something that I think Louisiana is coming around to, but it's just not happening as quickly as in other states.

Julia Kaufman

And I think that that's probably the case across a lot of states right now as we see growth in this population.

I'm going to give kind of a whirlwind tour of some of the findings that we found when we went into these two school districts—Oakland Unified and Jefferson Parish—and we talked to school leaders. We talked to a lot of people in the offices where Nicole and Karina work. We've talked to a lot of educators. And so, I'm going to share some high-level trends on what we learned from them. And then I'm going to turn to Nicole and Karina to just talk more about what really are the policies that have supported you the most? What are the strategies that have supported you the most? And where would you really like to have more funding? (The $100 million question, right?)

So, I'm going to look at four high-level challenges that came up as we talked to all these people in these two school districts where there is a growing large population of undocumented and asylum-seeking students, as well as a large population of English learners. So, those four issues are: enrollment, academic and English learning, nonacademic supports, and teacher training. So, I'm just going to highlight some of the findings in those four areas.

So, let's talk about enrollment first. Two big challenges there: language barriers and documentation requirements. Language barriers in that many speakers of other languages who don't know English that well come to enroll. Can't really engage. Maybe there's not enough bilingual support from administrators. Especially in Jefferson Parish, we heard that a lot: Not enough Spanish-speaking people in central administration. Now, in Oakland Unified, it's a little different, but of course, same thing in terms of language barriers. Nicole mentioned their Mam population, and they lack enough Mam speakers to really help that population in some cases. Documentation requirements can also turn people away, especially if these— the parents of these children are asked about, like giving residential information, information about where they live or their bills. It's sometimes documentation they don't have and they're reluctant to provide.

Some useful approaches that were highlighted to us include guaranteed in-person enrollment during COVID. Both districts went to online enrollment and then went back to in-person enrollment because it is so important. Just simplifying the intake process, asking for fewer documents, as well as referring to nonacademic services during enrollment. In Oakland unified, there's a pretty robust set of nonacademic services that can be offered to students, including legal support. Now, in Jefferson Parish, it's not a sanctuary state, not a sanctuary city or parish. And thus, the questions that one would ask to identify legal services are not the questions that administrators or anyone really wants to ask students. But there are— there is a pretty robust list of outside of Jefferson Parish School District services that students are often referred to during enrollment.

In terms of English-language learning and supports, again, language barriers are an issue, especially for languages for which there aren't enough teachers who are bilingual. Both districts talked about a difficulty in terms of knowing when and how to integrate students into regular classrooms. So, students may be put in special classrooms for the first year, first three years. But there are also challenges with that, because students can feel isolated or alienated. But then when they're integrated to the classrooms, the work may feel overwhelming to them. A lack of good instructional materials: In both districts, teachers spoke about, for example, resources in New York State that they would find really helpful to be able to use in their full comprehensive— in a full comprehensive program, but that they can't access. Not enough support to pursue college or career after high school: Some students work or feel pressure to work, which makes it difficult to be able to be in school and to graduate. College benefits, although different in Louisiana and California, are also ones that, to some level, undocumented students can't take advantage of.

Some useful approaches include all the specific programing that Nicole and Karina mentioned, especially treating language skills as an asset. Both districts have dual-language programs, and research demonstrates that dual-language programs are actually more effective than a lot of other approaches for supporting language development. And in addition, in Oakland Unified as one example, there are various supportive high school models, including a continuation school for students who do work, so that they can attend on sort of a more flexible schedule and have a school that supports their needs as they work or try to do other things.

Nonacademic supports came up so much in our conversations. Students dealing with trauma, culture shock, poverty, food, and medical care brought up by several people we spoke with in both districts as a need for some students, especially students that come unaccompanied or have weak family support. There may be families where the parents are working 12, 14 hours a day. They don't see them. Or an unaccompanied minor might be living with a relative they don't know very well or a sponsor family. Students do have pretty deep legal needs if they're asylum-seeking or other. I'm sure Karina or Nicole can talk a little bit more about that. And all these things lead to low attendance, truancy, dropping out.

There are many ways to address these issues, but they often require specialized staff. However, in both districts, there is a lot of discussion among teachers just about celebrating their diverse backgrounds and cultures so that they can establish trust with these populations. Having specialized staff like counselors in secondary schools, like social workers to address their needs, partnerships with other programs, as well as trauma-informed instructional methods. In one particular district, teachers had just attended a pretty meaty professional development on trauma-informed instruction and couldn't say enough about these skills and mindsets that it provided to them.

And lastly, teacher training. The needs are a little bit different in these two school districts. In Oakland Unified, teachers are hired with the expectation that they have ESL certification, and most teachers do offer English-language support. In Jefferson Parish, there's less— the teachers aren't necessarily— all the teachers don't have that certification. But it is something that they need for the teachers that are working with the English-language populations. There's also a need for specialized credentials for dual language, especially working with students with interrupted formal education. The needs of those students can be pretty intensive, and sometimes teachers don't have the training they need to work with that.

Specialized staff and support teachers are useful approaches in both districts as well as just really intensive professional learning opportunities, which are hard to find. In Oakland Unified, several teachers spoke about this wonderful, intensive, professional learning opportunity they had had where they were paid to go after school and on Saturdays to videotape themselves and then talk with other teachers about their instruction for English-language learners. It was funded by a foundation, but the foundation could not or did not fund it for the subsequent year, and unfortunately, they weren't able to take advantage of that professional learning opportunity again yet.

So now I'm going to turn to our experts. I highlighted a lot of different strategies that were spoken about by the teachers and school leaders we interviewed. Would love to hear, starting with Nicole, about the strategies that have been particularly helpful in your— from your perspective in supporting these populations.

Nicole Knight

Thank you, Julia, and I will definitely be referencing the many strategies that were named and giving a little bit more specifics. So, there's two main things that I'll talk about. One is a continuum of services across our city, and the second is around dedicated staff.

And so, in terms of a continuum of services and programs, this is an area of work we have been engaging in very intensely and deeply over the last seven or eight years, which is the time period we've been seeing this large influx of new immigrant families. Eight years ago, we had, I believe, three formalized newcomer programs, and now at the secondary level we have 15. So, we've grown a lot and done a lot of design thinking in that process of really thinking about what actually is needed right now in order to support the unique needs.

At the elementary level, it's a full inclusion model, and that's important for us because we want students to be integrated as quickly as possible into the general ed population. And elementary schools are about literacy and language development, along with building some of those other skills. And so, it feels appropriate. We do, however, provide additional staff for our schools that have large numbers of newcomers, and so schools that have 50 or more newcomers receive a half-time position. Oftentimes, schools supplement that with their own funds to make it full time. And schools that have 100 or more receive a full-time person who provides instructional support— directs instructional support for students' language development, foundational skills, and they also support their colleagues in providing responsive classrooms.

At the secondary level, we have 15 formalized—I say formalized because all of our schools have newcomers, and these families do get to choose where they want to go—but we have formalized programs, meaning they have these additional supports and they have sheltered classrooms. They have teachers who are specifically teaching either all newcomer sections or some newcomer sections as well as maybe perhaps some other sections. At the high school level, this includes comprehensive high schools that may have a newcomer academy where students begin and will eventually transition out of when they reach certain academic criteria or when they kind of clock out of this newcomer designation. And then we also have two specialized high schools that are fully dedicated to serving newcomers. One is Oakland International. So, if you're familiar with the International's network, it follows that model. And the second was what was mentioned, a continuation program specifically designed around the needs of unaccompanied immigrant youth who have to balance work and school. And that has been incredibly beneficial for us to have this range of experiences so that we can really look at, what does a student bring? What do they need? Do they have a transcript? And support them in the placement that is going to support— best support their needs and support them to reach the graduation stage eventually.

So, the second large strategy I'll mention is dedicated staff, and so that's both at the site and central levels. Currently, we have dedicated staff at, I believe, 29 schools across elementary and secondary. So, that's more than a third of our schools. And I mentioned a little bit in elementary what that staff is dedicated to. At secondary, they are all social workers, the additional staff that schools receive.

And then in addition to the site level, we do have dedicated staff centrally. We have two instructional specialists who provide professional development for teachers and support schools around questions of programing and curriculum and instruction. And then we also have a student services branch of our office that sits in the enrollment office where new families arrive. And when there is a family that is clearly new to the country, they're directed to this office—it's the Refugee and Asylee program—who then supports them with both program placement and also connects them to services depending on their need. And that may be employment programs, health providers, insurance, housing needs, and legal service.

I can't emphasize enough the importance of legal services for both our asylum-seeking families, but in particular, unaccompanied immigrant youth who may not have anyone else looking out for them and helping them understand the legal system, navigate, make it to court dates. And what we have found, at least in California—I know it's a different state than many others, different context—but when our unaccompanied immigrant youth have legal representation, the chances are they will win their asylum case. When they do not have legal representation, the chances are they will not win their asylum case. It is a make or break. And for some of our students, it really is a question of life or death, and that is not being hyperbolic.

Finally, our central staff include multilingual staff who are reflective of our communities. We call them community navigators, and they provide some translation interpretation support, but really are there to act as a bridge for these new members of the community coming in to a whole new culture, a new school system, and support these families and young people in navigating that system.

Julia Kaufman

So, thanks, Nicole, for kind of highlighting some of the amazing work that you're doing. I feel like some of the supports you mentioned are actually supports that would be beneficial to all students, but especially this population. Karina, do you want to talk a little bit about what is happening in your district that you think has been particularly useful?

Karina Castillo

Yeah, I think a lot of what Nicole has shared, we've been doing at a smaller level. I don't think— I don't know exactly, but I'm making an assumption here that we don't have the same amount of funding available to us because we are not, like, a sanctuary school district and have that established program or philanthropic funds in addition to what we receive as far as, like, for our Title III and Title I budgets. But we have implemented, right–we do have a responsibility for the teaching and learning of all of our students–and we have implemented embedded supports for teachers. We also have an inclusive model in our K–5 and established dual-language programs as well, which, as you mentioned, is the most effective model. And we're excited to have, you know, 12 dual-language programs in Jefferson Parish schools.

It— what I have found, we have increased the number of bilingual social workers and just mental health professionals in Jefferson Parish. What has been a challenge with that is also finding candidates that have the qualifications, the certified social workers and counselors that are also bilingual. So, a lot of— we've, you know, had to think about different ways to recruit, partnered with local health and hospital institutions, like, to try to recruit candidates. So, it has been a challenge in just our region in finding bilingual—not only certified employees, but then also non-certified employees that are truly bilingual and can serve as that language support for our families. So, we have a large number of bilingual paraprofessionals, bilingual teachers to serve in our dual-language programs. However, with our growing population and the needs of our families, we need more. And— we need more. We need high quality. And that has— the increase in that staff has definitely helped us. In addition to, like, our ESL coaching model, which is— not all of our teachers are certified in ESL, so what we do is we've embedded professional development for English-learner newcomer strategies on being culturally responsive classrooms and just culturally responsive schools, embedded that into what our teachers receive weekly in what we call, like, our PLCs or clusters—professional learning communities or clusters—so that every campus has an ESL coach that serves as that peer coach and mentor and really the specialist for our campus on English-learner needs—and really, the needs of diverse learners in general.

What our ESL— what I find, you know, is something that is needed is the individual— some— enough staff to have, really, an individualized plan for every student. We make a lot of assumptions about newcomers and, like, emerging-level language learners, when really there are so many differences. We have students that have had formal instruction in their country, some who have large gaps of formalized instruction. And we need to get to that really granular level of getting to know our students. And then in addition to the nonacademic also needs of just, you know, general health and safety and legal services that our students come with.

So, having bilingual social workers and counselors is very important—additional ones. And having specialized teachers like our ESL coaches has been very helpful. And then, of course, the more bilingual, just, in general employees that we have in our district helps our students and our families feel more comfortable when coming to our schools.

Julia Kaufman

Thank you so much. I think, before we get to the funding question, I want to pose a question that Sam Finn from our audience asked. Thanks for this great question, Sam. I would love to hear what Nicole and Karina think about this question.

What is possible and/or desirable with regards to data collaboration with Immigration Services and Departments of Social Services? What would be the risks? What would be advantageous in a perfect world? I think we'd already been talking a little bit about this, Nicole and Karina, when we were preparing for this discussion. Would love to hear your thoughts.

Nicole Knight

I can start. Hi, Sam. I can't see you, but great question. Sam is a colleague of ours who works also in Oakland, and we certainly talk about this back home.

So, I think one thing just to recognize is that some of our families and students, particularly our asylum seekers and our unaccompanied immigrant youth—who are also asylum seekers for the most part—are known by Homeland Security, because they were apprehended at the border. That's how our asylum process works. And they're in automatic deportation hearings, or they have a pending deportation case. And so, they're known by our government. And so, I think there's a real opportunity to do— now that they're here, and they have a legal right to argue their asylum case, how are we making sure that those families and youth are cared for? And are— you know, ideally—in a perfect world, as Sam states in the question—they are provided representation as we— as is a legal right in other situations in our country and have the means to be able to support themselves and to go to school. So, that's one— what feels like a low-hanging fruit, because we're not talking about disclosing information that might compromise or jeopardize a family's safety and ability to be in this country.

And then secondly, you know, ideally, we can expand the number of cities and states where we actually have sanctuary policy. And so, there are protections in the data systems and at the state level and the district level. So, per sanctuary policy, we are not to disclose or share information with federal agencies that might have an interest in their immigration status that would be harmful to those students and families. And yet it's often, for families, still scary because those policies can change. Right? So, that's what's true in California now. It doesn't mean that is what will be true in five years. So, I'll let Karina— I'm sure you have some different perspective given your vantage point in Louisiana.

Karina Castillo

Yeah, I can see the advantages, right, of identifying students and their families to partner them with agencies or our— just community partners that offer services that they need. However, there is a big risk in—especially in Louisiana—just establishing trust. We— it's a different state, so we are not a sanctuary city, and families are already not very comfortable disclosing lots of information in the enrollment process. Although, we as a district do not disclose any student information to any agencies. We actually have a really great— we have great legal counsel in Jefferson Parish that we are very protective of our students and their families. We are here for teaching and learning, in addition to all of the other things, but that is our primary focus. So, I do see the benefits. I don't know if we're in the same place, but the needs are the same, right? Our families, especially like, that reunification, the need for legal services, just family services in general. We have— we have families that come with students with special needs from establishing, like, getting a wheelchair for a student. Getting food for the family. These are very important, like, social services that we need to make sure our families have access to. And it's difficult when there's not that clear line of collecting of data and information when we first meet them. So, it's establishing that relationship. It takes time. And we would like to be able to help families faster and more succinctly, which it sounds like you guys have a little bit of a better system of that, Nicole. So, we would love to just be able to expand on that. So, having those— you know, having data would be very advantageous. But it's— I don't think that it would be possible right now, with just— in our area.

Julia Kaufman

Yeah, I'm really struck by that tension between just, like, not being able to report on the needs of the undocumented asylum-seeking students that you serve, at the same time that it would be so helpful to have the supports necessary to serve that population if you could report on that information. The other question that I wonder about— you were talking about the paraprofessional model, and I know that that's something that Jefferson Parish does. Could you talk a little bit more about the usefulness of relying on paraprofessionals to integrate kids into mainstream classrooms and how you use paraprofessionals for that?

Karina Castillo

Yeah. So, our paraprofessional position is like a teacher assistant position in other districts. In— just in our area in general, the Latin community is more recent, as— like, in 2010, after Katrina, that is when we had the huge influx of Hispanic/Latino families moving into the greater New Orleans area. So, as far as having bilingual personnel available, just in general, it's not like it is in other states that have historically had a large population of Hispanic or Latin families. So, we have had to employ, specifically, just bilingual employees, which are ESL paraprofessionals. That is the only position outside of our Spanish dual-language teachers and our French dual-language teachers in Jefferson Parish that have to speak another language or be bilingual. So, we depend heavily on that and just access—language access—for our families. And, like Nicole mentioned, Spanish is the largest second language spoken, but it is not the only one. We have a large Arabic community, and actually, the English-learner population in Louisiana for many years—prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2010—was our Vietnamese-speaking community. So, we've just seen such a large— there's so many shifts in population, depending on immigration patterns, that impact schools and who— the personnel that we need. So, it's— our paraprofessionals are— we have ESL-certified teachers and our ESL coaches, but we cannot do it without having language access just to be able to communicate with students' very essential needs and make that comprehensible input for students. And sometimes you just need to be able to hear it in your first language to make those connections. So, our paraprofessionals have been important, the training that comes with paraprofessional positions as well, because just because you are bilingual does not mean that you know how teaching and learning works. So, we've had to definitely develop our professional development. But it's— language access is a federal requirement, and so we rely heavily on our ESL paraprofessionals for that component.

Julia Kaufman

Yeah, I think it's so important that it's just— it's not all up to the teacher that's in front of the classroom. There are so many other people supporting that teacher, who can support that teacher with enough funding to be able to do it. And that kind of brings me to the last question that we were formally going to pose to you—and I'm going to ask Karina first—about what else could you be doing, would you like to be doing if you had the funding to do it?

Karina Castillo

I don't know if it's the same situation. With additional funding would be additional support of, like, home and family liaison positions. We have some parent liaison positions already, but not enough to make those connections. And for families, for nonacademic support that's needed. I think we've done a good job—always can get better—at meeting the academic needs of students in school, but it goes beyond that. And that has been the challenge for our current staff that is so focused on academic development, English-language development, in legal services, family services, counseling and mental health services—even medical services, actually—for our students, that there's so many other wraparound services that a liaison or additional counselors can help. And, really, developing that relationship with families. Because we don't have a formalized way of collecting information, trust has to be established, and then relationships with families have to be established to really identify the needs outside of academics that we could help support the family with that will impact the success of the students in school.

Julia Kaufman

Thanks. Now, Nicole, in your context, what else would you be doing if you had the funding?

Nicole Knight

Definitely more of everything, for all the reasons that Karina named. We are— you know, we are really proud of what we're able to provide in Oakland. And yet it still is so far from sufficient. It's so far from adequate. And, as mentioned, we're completely reliant on philanthropic funds and seasonal grants. And so, this is really— you know, and that is dependent on like, you know, having central staff who are willing and able to hustle for that funding and manage those grants. And it's dependent on the political context. And, you know, philanthropic providers who have that, you know, perhaps political orientation and openness to, you know, seeing our— welcoming our immigrant students and families. So, all of this should really be guaranteed and seen as a core function. These are children. We welcome children to our systems. We educate them. And we need to fully provide for all of our students and families, regardless of where they come from. And so, for these students, it does mean more.

The other thing is— and all of the other things that I spoke to around curriculum and instruction, I would love to see us have paraprofessionals in all of our classrooms. We also have a paraprofessional program—we call them newcomer systems—in our secondary programs, and they're mostly supportive of foundational skills in literacy and sometimes math. But we have to do our own little competitive, you know, grant allocation process, because we don't have enough funding to provide that for even all of our newcomer programs.

And lastly, this is, like, a big-picture ask in terms of funding, but I would like to see our states reexamine their funding formulas. And in talking to Karina, I understand that Louisiana is similar to California in that allocation per pupil is determined in the beginning of the year—in California's case, in beginning of October. We take a snapshot of student enrollment, and that determines the funding that schools are going to receive. I think there's a delay; I think it's for the next year. But we don't receive funding for the students—the hundreds of students—who arrive between October and the end of the year. So, that funding need is really subsidized by individual districts. So, not only do we need the supplemental support, we don't even get the core funding that we should be entitled to in order to fully serve our students that we know are projected to come. And in Oakland, that's important because we receive so many. We fully staff our classrooms and our schools not just for the students who arrive in August, but for the students who are projected to come throughout the year.

Julia Kaufman

Thank you so, so much. It was so great to hear about all the practices that are happening in your school districts, as well as what's needed at a state level to really support the work that you're doing. I just hope that this webinar and the work that you're doing can seed other great work in other districts. And so, I'm really appreciative of your time.

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