A newbrief from the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado Boulder, synthesizes research on ways for policymakers, districts, and schools to improve educational opportunities for English-language learners.
Written by William Mathis, managing director of the NEPC, the brief argues that non-English-speaking populations are frequently denied equal educational opportunities.
These populations, particularly children from Spanish-speaking families, consistently score below children of native-English speakers on academic achievement tests, the brief notes. Research also shows the persistence of state funding inequities that affect ELLs.
The number of ELL students has more than doubled since 1989, with Hispanics as the fastest-growing segment of this population. This problem is often mischaracterized as an immigration one, Mathis argues, but ELL student demographics suggest otherwise: Only 24 percent of ELL elementary students are foreign-born while the share of foreign-born ELL students at the secondary level is 44 percent.
The brief also suggests that ELL students tend to be concentrated in schools that serve low-income populations and that have a low instructional capacity and a shortage of trained teachers and materials. Communications and cultural barriers between schools and parents only exacerbate these barriers to learning.
While many of these problems are the result of systemic inequalities, changes could be made on the local level to alleviate this issue. In particular, school-based efforts to strengthen parental involvement could help increase parental efficacy and advocacy.
Mathis points to an earlier NEPC policy brief by Beatriz Arias and Milagros Morillo-Campbell. It encourages increased communication and collaboration with families, and an embrace of community culture. Providing parents with avenues to learn English would also help ELL parent involvement, the brief says, and would encourage parents to read and write with their children at home.
For policymakers, adequacy studies and identifying financial inequities in serving ELL students, once reviewed and updated, should be utilized for legislation and budgetary allocations. Professional development policies that embrace and build on students’ cultural backgrounds should be provided and state laws and regulations should take communities with high concentrations of ELL students into account.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.