Welcome to Learning the Language

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 02, 2007 2 min read
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Welcome to Learning the Language, a new blog at about immigrant children in U.S. schools and the teachers and policymakers who help them to learn English.

I started working for Education Week more than nine years ago writing about school technology. But I soon realized that I really wanted to be the reporter who wrote about immigrant students. I wanted to travel to pockets of the country and learn about people from interesting parts of the world.

Seven years ago I got the beat I wanted, and I’ve had a blast with the cross-cultural experiences that it has given me. I’ve reported on Somali refugee teenagers in Columbus, Ohio, schools; Ukrainian Pentecostals in Harrisonburg, Va., schools; Mexicans in the Senath-Hornerville school district in the “boot heel” of Missouri; and recently, Hmong in St. Paul Schools. I’ve visited mosques, tasted Hmong egg rolls, shared a meal seated on the living room floor with a Kurdish family, and dropped in on a quinceañera (a 15th birthday celebration for a Mexican girl). This is all in the United States.

But I didn’t forget that I work for a newspaper about education policy. I’ve also written about how voters in Arizona and Massachusetts approved ballot measures to curtail bilingual education, and lots of articles about new requirements for English-language learners under the No Child Left Behind Act. A couple of times, I compiled 50-state charts about the progress of states in meeting those requirements.

It’s taken me a while to realize how much state and federal policy affects English-language learners at the classroom level, but I have seen the light. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have just written four articles in a row for Education Week about testing.

In this blog, look for insight about some of the interesting groups of immigrant students in schools, such as the thousands of Meskhetian Turks from Russia who have recently resettled in this country, and new developments in education policy concerning English-learners.

Please, also, let me know what’s going on in your schools. What have you learned about the culture of a group of immigrants who has come to your school? What kind of training do you think teachers need to work well with English-language learners? What methods have you found to be effective? What are the biggest challenges your school or state faces in improving schooling for English-language learners? You can reach me by e-mail at

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