A quantitative and qualitative investigation of what causes differences in university preparation for English language learners in California high schools

This dissertation applied mixed research methods to explore the factors correlated with variation in the percentage of English learner (EL) students completing A-G course requirements in California high schools. Across the State’s high schools, an average value of sixty percent of all students, excluding EL students, completed A-G course requirements, in 2016. In comparison, the average value of this completion rate was seven percent for EL. The lower A-G completion rate for EL students in California is an important policy concern because it represents the achievement gaps among these groups that not only exerts negative individual consequences, but also impacts the entire state’s economic productivity due to its forecasted shortage of future college workers. Thus, I chose a pooled cross section and time series data set for a fixed-effect regression analysis that teased out the separate influences of Institutional, Ethnic/Linguistic, and Socio-Economic characteristics in a high school on this achievement rate. Interestingly, the percentage of Pacific Islander students, percentage of African American students, and percentage of Asian teachers exerted the strongest influences on A-G completion rates among EL students; respectively a one-percentage-point increase in each of these yielded -0.86, -0.33, and +0.25 changes in the dependent variable of interest. Whether causal or correlational, these findings warrant greater investigation both when considering policy interventions and the social justice concern of the “type” of school where EL students are at a clear disadvantage in qualifying for direct entrance into a four-year university, upon graduation. Through a qualitative design as a transcendental phenomenology study, I found a probable correlation between negative discourse, or discourse that negated equitable practices, and social injustice. Such practices that had become the norm included limiting access to college prep courses through counseling in favor of support courses – away from college pathways, and this had a negative impact on EL graduation rates as well. However, the limitations posed by the mere four percent response rate is not acceptable to draw statewide conclusions and policy implications from my qualitative study. Further investigation of this issue is necessary to respond with policy changes based upon the statistical findings if administrators wish to increase A-G completion among ELs in their district.