Arne Duncan and English-Language Learners

By Mary Ann Zehr — December 16, 2008 1 min read
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I have only one clue to offer about what kind of policies Arne Duncan, who has been nominated as the secretary of education for President-elect Barack Obama’s Cabinet, might favor for English-language learners. As the superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, he has argued that English-language learners should have a separate test other than the state’s regular reading and math tests for ELLs.

In the 2007-08 school year, the U.S. Department of Education required Illinois to drop use of a plain English test for ELLs, called the the Illinois Measure of Annual Growth in English, or IMAGE, for calculating adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act. So last school year, all ELLs had to take the regular state tests for math and reading. Scores for elementary students still rose 1 percent from the previous year after the change in policy, but Mr. Duncan told Chicago Public Radio that ELLs still need their own separate test.

So I speculate that as secretary of education, Mr. Duncan could be more lenient in permitting states to use alternative tests for ELLs than has been the case with current Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. Over the last few years, the Education Department has required a number of states to stop using alternative tests for ELLs, but has given its stamp of approval to other states for alternative tests that it found acceptable.

Another interesting note about Mr. Duncan is that he comes from a state that requires schools to provide bilingual education if they have a critical mass of students who speak the same language. About 14 percent of the 408,600 students in Chicago Public Schools are English-language learners, and many schools in that system do provide bilingual education. Mr. Duncan should have had quite a lot of exposure to the educational method. I don’t know, though, how his views on bilingual education line up with those of President-elect Obama.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.