Boston Globe: Boston Needs to Step Up Services for ELLs

By Mary Ann Zehr — April 14, 2009 1 min read
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A Boston Globe editorial follows up on a report that shows that the approach of Boston Public Schools to teaching English-language learners is widening the achievement gap at all levels between such students and native speakers of English. The dropout rate for ELLs also dramatically increased from 2003 to 2006. The editorial suggests that Boston educators should take a field trip to some smaller school districts in the state that were featured in a 2007 Rennie Center report as implementing “best practices” for ELLs.

Margaret Adams, who is a member of the board of directors of the Massachusetts Association of Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages, responded to the editorial with a commentary noting that many ELLs in Massachusetts don’t receive any specialized services at all to learn the language.

It wouldn’t be wise to blame the “garbled approach” in Boston to serving ELLs on the policy change approved by voters in 2002, the editorial says. That year, voters passed a ballot initiative, Question 2, that greatly curtailed bilingual education in the state. Here’s an excerpt from the editorial:

It would be tempting to blame this entire mess on a 2002 ballot initiative mandating English immersion as the primary means of instruction. Previously, schools offered a broad array of classes for students in their native languages. But the authors of the UMass study wisely chose to focus on ways to improve the current system rather than on reigniting an old political debate. Immersion can work for many students. And for those who struggle with it, the law still offers various waivers and alternatives, including opportunities for students to attend classes in their native languages.

The editorial notes that the post for the director of programs for ELLs was open for a year in Boston. The school system named a new director last week.

A theme that keeps emerging regarding education of these students in the various reports I read is the need for districtwide consistency and coordination. It’s amazing to me that even some large urban school systems that have enrolled large numbers of ELLs for decades still don’t have a strong overall plan for how to address the needs of such students.

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