Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. LaSonja Roberts

Second Advisor

Dr. Brett Geier

Third Advisor

Dr. Kyle Mayer


English learners, civil rights, leadership, English as a Second Language, K-12 administrators, legal obligations


English Learners (ELs), who now represent nearly 10% of all K-12 public school students, 4.8 million of who speak over 400 different languages and dialects, continue to lack equitable educational opportunities as demonstrated through gaps in achievement outcomes, poor graduation rates, and identified systemic barriers related to the intersectionality of language, culture, race, and racism (Crump, 2014; DeMatthews & Izquierdo, 2017; Menken & Solorza, 2015; Morita-Mullaney, 2018; National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition [NCELA], 2015, 2018). This quantitative study captured over 800 K-12 educational leaders’ perspectives, via an anonymous electronic survey, on key issues regarding equitable programs for ELs that minimally adhere to the civil rights obligations of schools. Analysis of their attitudes and beliefs, formal level of preparation, level of understanding of civil rights obligations, barriers, level of equitable EL program implementation, and EL program outcomes revealed severe equity issues for ELs in our schools.

Grounded in an understanding of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Social Justice Leadership, and LangCrit Theory, this study found that while K-12 educational leaders have overall positive attitudes and beliefs regarding equitable programs for ELs, they have a vast void of formal preparation and understanding coupled with minimal levels of implementation of schools’ civil rights obligations to ELs (Crump, 2014; DeMatthews et al., 2017). Specifically, less than 35% of participants responded that they completely understand any one of the 10 civil rights obligations aligned to the OCR/DOJ 2015 Dear Colleague Letter, and over 50% of educational leaders reported that not a single one of the 10 civil rights issues identified is fully implemented in their school or district. Barriers to implementation were identified with the most significant barrier being a lack of certified ESL/bilingual teachers.

This study is the first to examine the perceptions of K-12 educational leaders in relation to schools’ civil rights obligations of ELs, and the findings show that school- and district-level leaders have statistically significant differences in their perceptions. Additionally, a statistically significant regression model was found to predict EL Program Outcomes based on five predictors, three of which were statistically significant. Greater levels of preparation and implementation showed higher levels of EL Program Outcomes. Conversely, the more barriers experienced by K-12 educational leaders, the lower the EL Program Outcomes. This study emphasizes that minimal compliance does not equate to fully equitable opportunities for ELs, and the intersectionality of language, culture, race, and racism is carefully addressed. Implications and recommendations for educational leaders, policymakers, and multiple stakeholders are provided along with opportunities for further research.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access