Education Funders Group Calls for ELLs to Be High Priority

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 01, 2011 2 min read
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If philanthropists want to see education improve in this country, they need to focus more on the needs of English-language learners, an influential group of funders says in a report released today.

Grantmakers for Education released an eight-page report based on a meeting it helped to convene in New York City last summer intended to inform funders about the education of English-language learners and urge them to focus more on that area of education.

The achievement gap between ELLs and native speakers of English in this country makes it critical “for grantmakers to deepen our collective efforts to increase learning outcomes for ELL students,” the report says. It says that many funders aren’t very well informed about the needs of such students. The report aims to begin to fill that gap by summarizing research about and best practices for the education of such students.

The report acknowledges that focusing on improving education for English-language learners can be a touchy issue politically because such children come from immigrant families and immigration issues are hotly debated in this country right now. The report advises funders to frame the financial support for initiatives to support ELLs as an education issue rather than an immigration issue.

“In an increasingly polarized political climate, in which immigration remains a hot-button issue, grantmakers can bring crucial pressure to move past partisanship and address ELL as an education issue with important implications for our global competitiveness,” the report says.

Interestingly, Grantmakers in Education takes positions on a few education policy issues affecting ELLs. For example, it says that funders should advocate for all teachers to be trained in how to work with ELLs, a policy that only a few states have implemented. It also says that funders should encourage states to standardize criteria for identifying and classifying ELLs within states, something that the U.S. Department of Education has also strongly encouraged.

In my 11 years of reporting on ELLs, I have not seen many foundations focus on the needs of ELLs. One foundation that has been active in this area is the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which underwrote an important study of how to improve education in high schools, “Double the Work,” a few years ago. That private foundation has also supported the Working Group on ELL Policy, a group of ELL researchers who have become an influential voice on ELL policy in the nation’s capital.

The report highlights the work of the S.H. Cowell Foundation in supporting education in 17 high-poverty communities in California that include a large number of ELLs. That foundation has supported research on ELLs and training and resources for teachers to work with ELLs.

The report says that improving the schooling of ELLs takes long-term commitment and investment. I’ve observed that many foundations tend to focus on a certain area of grantmaking for a few years and then move on to other priorities. Grantmakers for Education seems to have done its homework in researching needs for this group of students that warrant attention and articulating to funders what they are getting into.

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