Supporting Children of Immigrants' Special Needs in California's New Era of Local Control

Jacob Hibel is an associate professor of sociology. His project, which examines the consequences of the move to "local control" for students from immigrant families, was awarded an ISS Individual Research Grant in 2016. He provided this update in July 2017.

How did this project come about? What inspired it?

This project was inspired by two phenomena related to my interests in social demography and education research. On one hand is the trend of growing geographic dispersion among immigrants to the United States, which leads increasing numbers of migrant youth to grow up and attend school in communities with comparatively little experience serving immigrant populations. How do local institutions, including public schools, respond to these demographic shifts, and how are migrant students’ educational pathways shaped as a result? The other phenomenon that inspired this project was the 2013 overhaul of California’s public school funding system, which assigned a great deal more responsibility for setting goals and allocating resources to local school districts. What are the consequences of this move to “local control” for students from immigrant families, and how do school districts’ local migration contexts shape the policies, programs, and practices they adopt?

How has it progressed since you received an ISS Individual Research Grant?

The ISS grant facilitated this projects’ progress along several lines. Most directly, it allowed me to support my excellent graduate advisee, Sean Arseo, as he collected more than 300,000 pages of complex policy information from all of California’s elementary and unified school districts. The grant also laid the groundwork for an ongoing collaboration with Duncan Temple Lang, the Director of the UC Davis Data Science Initiative, as we work to develop methods for extracting and analyzing the information contained in those policy documents. This initial data gathering effort formed the basis of a large grant proposal, which was recently funded by the William T. Grant Foundation and will support the project through 2021.

What notable or surprising findings can you share at this point?

Before narrowing our focus to California, we first sought to paint a broad, national picture of the association between local migration context and children’s access to special services (i.e., gifted/talented programs, ESL/bilingual services, special education services for children identified with disabilities). Our initial findings, which I recently presented at a conference and which we will submit for publication later this summer, indicate that there are surprisingly robust associations between a Latino child’s odds of receiving these types of services and the historical legacy of Latino migration to the district in which the child attends school. Specifically, Latino youth who attend school in an “established destination” school district (i.e., one with a long history of Latino migration) are substantially more likely than otherwise similar Latino youth living in emerging or non-destination districts to be placed in gifted programs or to receive English acquisition services, and are far less likely to be identified as having a disability. This has less to do with the children’s own characteristics, and more to do with the structure and composition of the schools they attend. Which brings us to the next step... 

What is the next step?

We know that certain school-level factors appear to be especially meaningful in shaping children of immigrants’ access to special services, such as their teachers’ ethnic background and the socioeconomic composition of their schools’ student bodies. But we do not yet know *why* these factors matter. What are the actual practices and policies that differ across schools in established vs. non-established immigrant destinations that tend to stratify children’s access to special services? To answer this important, policy-relevant question, my colleagues and I will conduct two separate but related studies. First, we will analyze the over-time development of California school districts’ policies following the 2013 enactment of the Local Control Funding Formula, paying particular attention to practices specifically aimed at facilitating migrant children’s access to special resources. The second study’s aim is to understand the extent to which these district-level policies filter down to classrooms to inform changes to administrative and pedagogical practice. This study will be based on interviews with district superintendents, school principals, and classroom teachers in about a dozen school districts across California, shedding light on the processes through which these educators interpret and implement emerging policies in a perpetually shifting institutional environment.

Learn more about Jacob Hibel.