Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Date of this Version



TESOL QUARTERLY Vol. 38, No.1 , Spring 2004, pp. 43-63.


Equal educational opportunity for all students has long been a goal of public education in the United States. Realizing equality of educational opportunity for English language learners (ELLs), however, has proven to be a difficult task. This article examines 1 high school community's perception of educational opportunity and its approach to equalizing it. The findings reveal a community-wide endorsement of a policy of equal treatment for equalizing educational opportunity. This policy of difference blindness, however, was found to produce inequities for ELLs in at least 2 ways: restricted access to course content and inaccurate assessment and grading. Although teacher participants recognized inequities, they considered them temporary and tolerable. As educational opportunity was accessible only through English, equal treatment, which was perceived to speed English acquisition, was viewed to be the most effective approach for equalizing opportunity. Equality of educational opportunity at the school site, therefore, required ELLs to be normalized through linguistic assimilation, and an ideology of difference blindness through difference erasure was evident. Implications include the need for educational institutions to rethink approaches to equalizing opportunity and a call for reenvisioning educational opportunity as a participatory concept.