Quality Counts 2009: Portrait of a Population

EPE Research Center Director Christopher B. Swanson and blogger Mary Ann Zehr discussed the findings in Quality Counts 2009.
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January 8, 2009

Quality Counts 2009: Portrait of a Population

  • Christopher B. Swanson is the director of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center.
  • Mary Ann Zehr is an assistant editor and blogger for Education Week. She has written about the schooling of English-language learners for more than eight years.

Mark Bomster (Moderator):

Good afternoon, and welcome to Education Week‘s Live Chat about Quality Counts 2009, Portrait of a Population: How English-Language Learners Are Putting Schools to the Test. We’d like to thank our sponsor of this chat, CDW-G.

Joining us today are Christopher B. Swanson, director of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, and Mary Ann Zehr, an Education Week assistant editor, author of our “Learning the Language” blog, and reporter who specializes in English-language learner issues. They’ll be answering questions about this 13th annual edition of Quality Counts, which focused specifically on the challenges public schools face in educating the diverse and growing population of 5.1 million English-language learners nationwide. They also can talk about other aspects of the Quality Counts report, which grades the states on important aspects of public school performance and student achievement.

I’m Mark Bomster, assistant managing editor for state policy, and I’ll be moderating this discussion. We’ve already received a number of great questions about this year’s report, particularly about English-learners, so let’s get to them.

Question from Marisa Militello, Student, Haverford College:

What do you think most inhibits the growth of ELLs in U.S. schools? What factors negatively affect their motivation and achievement?

Mary Ann Zehr:

A lack of consistency from year to year in how ELLs are taught can be a problem. Schools need to have a strong curriculum for the education of ELLs. Most people in the field also believe now that the curriculum and instruction must be standards-based.

A number of years ago, New York City put out a report on its ELLs that showed students particularly failed to make academic progress if they were moved back and forth between different kinds of programs, such as between English-only classrooms and bilingual classrooms. Many ELLs received a hodgepodge of instruction, and the inconsistency was a problem.

I hear over and over again from ELL experts that a lack of access to the core curriculum in schools is a huge hindrance for ELLs to make progress. Maria Santos, who oversees programs for ELLs in New York City and whom I interviewed for Quality Counts 2009, said that one of her main goals is to provide ELLs with access to the core curriculum, which she contends they traditionally haven’t had.

I’ve met quite a few teenage ELLs who are newcomers and are receiving only math and English classes (and perhaps gym) during their first year in a U.S. school. I don’t consider that to be full access to the curriculum.

Question from Jane Bailey, Education Center, CNA-Analysis & Solutions:

What can the research community best do to inform ELL practice?

Christopher B. Swanson:

One of the major themes that runs through Quality Counts’ special focus on English-language learners is the tremendous diversity of this student population. Despite popular conceptions and stereotypes, this is not at all a monolithic group. They come from every corner of the world (including right here in the U.S.) and they speak more than 100 different languages.

As a first step, research can help better serve ELL students by providing insights on the diverse backgrounds of these students, particular characteristics that are likely to impact on their ability to learn English and to progress in their academic subjects. Much of the research we conducted for Quality Counts aims to offer a national and state-level profile of ELL students. But analyses tailored to understanding the needs of ELLs in individual communities around the country will provide much more powerful support for serving these students.

The second step will be matching programs and interventions with the needs of ELL students. Given what we’ve heard, the need to individualize instructional approaches (important for all students) will be essential for effectively serving ELLs with such diverse personal and schooling backgrounds. Research has started to uncover some promising approaches (additional details can be found in Quality Counts). But as is too often the case, there is much more work to be done. The good news is that the inclusion of ELL students in federal and state accountability systems and the rapid growth of this population has greatly raised the profile of English-language learners in the past few years. And that increased attention includes more research being conducted to figure out how to best serve the needs of ELLs. Question from Richard Orem, Professor, Northern Illinois University:

How is the downturn in the economy affecting enrollments of language minority students in k-12 programs? What do experts project in immigration patterns and school enrollment patterns over the next 12-24 months?

Christopher B. Swanson:

That’s a great, and very timely, question! The short answer is that I don’t think anyone really knows for sure. But we learned a number of things from the original research we performed for Quality Counts that may shed at least some insight on the issue.

For starters, we may need to revise our preconceived notions about who English-language learners are. The majority of ELLs are actually native-born, not immigrants to the U.S. That being said, just over one-third of ELLs were born in another country, and some additional part of that population may still have strong ties to their parent’s country of origin.

Immigration in general, including that of ELLs, is driven by a variety of factors. But seeking better economic opportunities is probably at the top of the list. Much of the recent growth in the ELL population can be found in regions of the country that have seen significant economic expansion during the past decade.

Based on the socioeconomic analyses we performed for Quality Counts, it appears that the jobs held by parents of ELL students are probably much more tenuous than those of other workers. So we can expect that a major economic downturn would, at the very least, significantly slow migration into areas where there has been an influx of immigrants. Generally, one or both of the following patterns might emerge. First, families of ELLs who immigrated from outside the U.S. might return to their home countries. This could potentially reduce the overall size of the ELL population. Second, those families might move elsewhere in the U.S. in order to find work in a more favorable domestic labor market. This would just geographically reshuffle the population within the country. Since the majority of ELL youths are native-born, I suspect there would be a significant amount of the later.

Question from Linda Bradbury, EEO/EOF program, Kean University:

How do you anticipate the deficit of funds affecting the education of ELLs?

Mary Ann Zehr:

Even before the downturn in the U.S. and world economy, I heard a lot of complaints that programs for English-language learners were not well-funded. Quality Counts 2009 found that ten states don’t provide any additional funds for English-language learners other than what are provided for regular students. One of those ten states is Nevada, which has experienced tremendous growth over the last decade in ELL enrollment.

Arizona provides additional funds for ELLs in its per-pupil formula, but whether that money is adequate has been an issue in a long-running federal court case, Flores v. Arizona. A U.S. district court judge in the case ruled that Arizona’s funding for ELLs was not adequate. State legislators are contending that the increases that they’ve approved since that ruling are adequate.

I’m guessing that as state and school district budgets are slashed, debates over what amount of funding is adequate for ELLs will heat up even more. I can’t really predict the impact on programs for ELLs, though.

Question from Giselle Perry, College Coordinator - Sonoma State University:

Are you aware of any official movement at the national or state level towards collaborating more with Mexico, for example, to address ELL issues via binational initiatives, such as teacher exchanges and binational teacher hiring?

Mary Ann Zehr:

I think that a lot of collaboration is going on between the United States and Mexico.

I’ve mentioned in this chat a new program run by the University of Texas at Austin called Lucha. The staff of Lucha adapt online Spanish courses from Mexico for Spanish-speaking teenagers who are new to U.S. schools. They also evaluate transcripts from Mexico and recommend what number of high school credits the students should get in the United States for work done in Mexico. The staff work with Mexican states and schools to track down those transcripts if students don’t have them.

Mexico and the United States have collaborated for years on the education of migrant students who move between the two countries. That effort is called the Binational Migrant Education Program.

Back in 2004, I reported on how both California and New Mexico had signed agreements with education officials in Mexico to encourage teachers from that country to work in U.S. schools for up to three years. I’m not sure how common such agreements are right now.

Question from Dr. Emma J. Armendariz, Director of Bilingual Education, Las Cruces Public Schools:

With the increase in ELL population across the nation, would you feel that it may be time for our nation to capitalize on the situation rather than view it as a problem, and promote multilingualism or at least bilingualism in our schools for all children to give all our students an edge in the global society we live in?

Mary Ann Zehr:

Many of the people who enthusiastically support two-way bilingual programs would point out that such programs are one way that the nation can capitalize on the language knowledge of ELLs. In two-way bilingual programs, which are really catching on, students whose first language is English and students whose first language is another language language learn both languages in the same classrooms.

A few years ago I visited the public school district of Dearborn, Mich., and wrote about how educators there felt the district’s Arabic program could be expanded and strengthened to turn out more youths who were truly bilingual in Arabic and English. The U.S. government was desperate to employ people fluent in Arabic and English. Yet educators in Dearborn, which enrolls many students who speak Arabic at home, said they were limiting enrollment in Arabic classes because of a lack of funds. Later, the Dearborn school district did get involved in a federal grant provided to a state university to develop a K-16 pipeline for Arabic-language learning. It seemed to me that was a smart move by the federal government to invest in the language capital of the Dearborn community.

Question from Lee J Dury, Data & Assessment Specialist, NLNS:

According to the Quality Counts report, approximately 75% of ELL students speak Spanish. What similarities and differences are there as we (educators, schools, district, support organizations) also deal with other languages such as Czech, Russian, Navajo, Hmong, etc.?

Mary Ann Zehr:

The beauty of Spanish for a teacher of English to a Spanish-speaker is that Spanish and English have many cognates, or words that sound similar. A teacher can help a student increase his or her vocabulary by leaps and bounds by drawing attention to cognates. I don’t know much about the languages that you mention in your question, but I seriously doubt there are many cognates between Navajo and English or Hmong and English. When I studied rudimentary Chinese 20 years ago, I wasn’t aware of cognates between Chinese and English. And that, in part, made learning Chinese much more difficult for me than learning Spanish.

But there are other similarities between the languages you mention and English that teachers can build on, such as that there may be overlap in some of the grammar rules between different languages. And even if there are mostly differences, it can be helpful for teachers to point out those differences.

When students arrive in U.S. schools without literacy in their own language, which isn’t uncommon for some refugees coming from war torn areas, they have much farther to go in acquiring a new language than if they are already literate.

Question from Cindy Mumby, parent:

I see that the grade on each state report card is made up of several components, one of which is K-12 achievement. Specifically, what are the components of this measurement? My state (MD) has very high scores, except under the heading of “status” where we achieved only a C grade. Thank you.

Christopher B. Swanson:

We grade states every year across a set of six categories that capture key dimensions of educational policy and performance. Those are: Chance for Success; K-12 Achievement; Standards, Assessments, and Accountability; Transitions and Alignment; Teaching Profession; and School Finance. So, it’s a pretty comprehensive list and spans dozens of individual indicators.

Within the K-12 Achievement category specifically, the grade is based on 18 individual indicators that capture three aspects of achievement: a snapshot of current school performance (status), improvements over time (change), and gaps between poor and non-poor students (equity). We examine reading and math in grades 4 and 8 as well as graduation rates and results of Advanced Placement testing.

Maryland finished first in the nation this year overall, across all six categories. And the state ranks second in K-12 Achievement. Among the three elements of the achievement category, Maryland has its weakest showing (comparatively speaking) in status, where its current levels of achievement are close to (or a little above) the national average. But the state has shown strong improvements over time overall and in closing the poverty gap. So those factors contribute to Maryland’s second-place finish.

Question from Mary-Kate Bourn, Publishing Director, Translations.com:

There’s significant discussion about what sort of instruction is or is not happening for ELL students, but I’ve seen nothing about what content is being produced for said instruction. Shouldn’t that be part of the results discussion? How can we expect improvement in achievement and test scores when there’s nothing in place to oversee the quality of the curriculum produced? We’re often appalled by the “experts” the states and publishers designate as their reviewers. Most are subject specialist but know nothing about language. The result of the content localized is butchered translation used to enhance the English source curriculum, not educate the ELL target audience. Localization needs to be part of the ELL discussion beyond, “how do we teach ELL students English.”

Mary Ann Zehr:

Certainly it makes sense that the quality of textbooks and materials should be part of the discussion about what is an effective education for ELLs. I know that advocates of ELLs in California who have pressed to have the textbook adoption process in that state better address the needs of ELLs would agree with you on that.

The U.S. Department of Education has evaluated some materials for ELLs through its What Works Clearinghouse. I can’t think of other examples other than panels involved in state adoption processes. Question from John Stallcup Co Founder APREMAT/USA:

Given NCLB only allows two years for English language learners to learn English and the research shows although you can learn conversational English in two years it takes at least four years to learn the English required to become proficient in all subjects taught in English, will this issue continue to be ignored?

Mary Ann Zehr:

Actually, the NCLB law requires that all students, including ELLs, take their state’s regular math and reading tests in grades 3 to 8 and once in high school. So that means if an ELL enrolled in a U.S. school in kindergarten, he or she would start taking those tests in 3rd grade. The law permits ELLs to be tested with native-language tests for three years, with an extension of two years on a case-to-case basis. Of course, as Quality Counts 2009 reports, only 13 states provide native-language tests. So that means that many English-learners participate in state testing only in English.

Regulations for the No Child Left Behind Act require that ELLs take the regular state math test during its first administration after they enroll in a U.S. schools. They don’t have to take the reading test until after they’ve been in a U.S. school for a year. And the scores count for calculating adequate yearly progress under NCLB only after ELLs have been in the United States for a year.

Question from Miriam Errico, Assistant Principal, I.S. 162 NYC:

What program for ELLs has been the most effective nationwide?

Mary Ann Zehr:

I suspect that in your asking this important question, you know that there is no simple answer. If you haven’t already, I recommend that you read “Delving Deep: Research Hones Focus on ELLs,” by my colleague Deborah Viadero, in Quality Counts 2009. She reviews what is and isn’t known from research about ELLs. She says, for example, that “when teachers teach students how to decode words, how to spell, and how to recognize phonemes,...ELLs nearly catch up to English-speaking classmates in the early grades, according to the research.” But she goes on to say that teaching students to comprehend what they read is another matter.

She notes how many experts in the field say that bilingual education methods have an edge over English-only methods in teaching literacy to ELLs, as several reviews of the research have shown, but at least one ELL expert is skeptical about this conclusion.

What I hear experts saying over and over these days is that implementation is as important as what kind of program is used to teach ELLs. If you find a convincing answer to your question, please let me know.

Question from Roger Rice, META, Inc.:

Is it the case that by averaging together grade 4 and grade 8 academic achievement, the data presented in Two Lenses: Academic Achievement has the consequence of masking the much worse grade 8 scores? Given that many ELLs reach age 16 (school quitting age) by grade 9, isn’t it important to get a clear fix on how they are doing in grade 8?

Christopher B. Swanson:

We combined 4th and 8th graders in our analysis to provide a more streamlined presentation of findings. But your observation is correct – averaging these groups together does overlook some of the differences we find in performance across grade levels. One reason this is important is that the educational profiles of younger ELLs may be very different than that of older students.

State education agencies (as required by the No Child Left Behind Act) should be publicly reporting grade-by-grade assessment results for English-language learners. In most cases, that will be the most detailed information available on the way ELL performance differs across grade levels. (Of course, much debate has arisen over whether states’ definitions of “proficiency” are appropriate and the general lack of comparability of results across states). That said, data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that, nationwide, the percentages of 8th grade ELLs proficient in reading in math tend to be lower than those of 4th grade ELLs. Gaps between ELLs and non-ELLs are roughly the same for both grades. However, with the exception of 8th grade reading, those gaps have been growing over time.

Question from Evelyn Stacey, Research Associate, Pacific Research Institute:

California also uses Average Daily Attendance as part of the funding formula, which lowers the number of students, how do you adjust for states using other enrollment methods?

Christopher B. Swanson:

Our own research on states and districts around the country relies heavily on the Common Core of Data from the U.S. Department of Education. That’s a public database that consists of an annual census of all public schools and districts in the U.S. Importantly, from our perspective, it provides a uniform source of information from state-to-state across the nation. So all states report (for example) enrollment statistics in the same way.

However, your point is a good one (and one that many people may not be aware of). There are actually different ways to measure and account for enrollment and attendance. These various practices can result in different figures and may produce substantially different findings with respect to school finances or other issues.

Question from Marilyn Hamilton, University of the District of Columbia, Department of Education:

What is the role that Teacher Preparation Programs can play in preparing teachers who are capable of enhancing the achievement and performance of students?

Christopher B. Swanson:

We have received a number of questions about the connections between teacher preparation and better serving English-language learners. As a researcher, I am often in the position of having to say that evidence is inconclusive on one topic or another. But the one area where there is practically universal agreement is that teachers are the single most important factor in the quality of our children’s education. That would certainly apply to English-learners as well as their non-ELL peers.

One of the key research findings in Quality Counts is that there will be increasing demand for educators with expertise in teaching English-learners over the next few years. Unfortunately, state policy efforts related to ELL instruction seem to lag behind this demand. For example, only three states require all prospective teachers to have any kind of formal preparation in ELL instruction as part of their licensing requirements. This suggests that university-based teacher preparation programs themselves may have to take the initiative to develop and promote effective models of ELL instruction (for specialists and mainstream teachers alike), if we are going to significantly move the dial on this issue. While we did not focus on this particular topic in Quality Counts, we hope that others can use our work to further explore the issue of preparing ELL teachers. Question from Teresa Ferrer, Licensing Consultant, Oregon Education Association:

In looking at the Teaching Profession category in particular, we have some concerns about the accuracy of the data. What exactly was your method of collecting the data and how did you come to your final “YES"/"No” judgments?

Christopher B. Swanson:

As is the case for most of the indicators in our policy-based categories, the information on the Teaching Profession is predominantly original data collected by the EPE Research Center. You can find details about our data and methods in the Methodology section at the back of the Quality Counts report (see the 2007 edition for Teaching Profession).

But a short answer to your question is that we survey state education agencies very year about the policies they have enacted in a number of areas, including teacher policy. In order to receive credit for an indicator, states must provide additional documentation to show that a policy is in place and conforms to our definitions and criteria. This typically involves an on-going dialogue with the states, who invest considerable time and effort providing these data. So this is a much higher standard of evidence that is typical of most policy research.

Question from Luis-Gustavo Martinez, Senior Policy Analyst, NEA:

In yesterday’s panel presentation, panelist Kris Gutietierez, mentioned a “robust accountability system for ELL’s.” Can you please elaborate further on this concept, what this would look like in practice, and what policy recommendations are needed to make this a valid, reliable and appropriate system for ELLs?

Christopher B. Swanson:

I wouldn’t want to speak for Kris Gutierrez here, since she has very articulate and well-developed views on these matters. But I can mention a couple of the main issues that have been discussed in the field more generally about ELLs and accountability.

Throughout Quality Counts, we found evidence of a major tension between having to teaching ELL students English at the same time they are being held accountable for their performance on academic subjects as part of federal and state accountability systems. So there are two pieces to accountability for ELLs: (1) attaining English-language proficiency (ELP), and (2) proficiency on math, reading and other subjects (which is, of course, enhanced by better English skills).

More robust accountability would deal with both of those dimensions and address concerns about the connection between the two. On the former, for example, some have called for more transparent, accurate, and uniform (across states) ways of assessing ELLs for English proficiency. On the latter, some have asked how soon ELLs should be required to take (and be held accountable for) academic subject assessments. Right now (under the No Child Left Behind Act), academic assessment results for ELLs can be exempted from school accountability decisions for one year. But it has been suggested that ELL students should only be required to take such academic assessments if they have first demonstrated a minimal (and well-defined) level of English proficiency on an ELP test.

There have been some modifications to the accountability provisions of NCLB over the past few years related to ELLs. It will be interesting to see if any major new thinking along these lines is reflected in the reauthorization of the law, whenever that eventually happens.

Question from Neville Matadin, Supervisor, East Orange, NJ:

English language learners, have diverse backgrounds, language and profiles. Do you think that that expectations vary considerably even though their common goal is the learning of English? What is the experience of teachers of English-language learners?

Mary Ann Zehr:

Of course, I’m not able to read educators’ minds to know what their expectations of students really are. Most educators will say that they truly expect all of their students to learn and progress. But they also say that all students do not learn the same way or at the same rate, and that’s certainly true of English-language learners as well.

The article in the report that addresses your question the best, perhaps, is “Testing Tension: Weigh Proficiency, Assess Content,” by my colleague Scott J. Cech. Scott quotes Susan B. Martin, a director of ELL programs for Lewiston, Maine, schools as saying: “The original idea behind NCLB is that we should treat all kids the same--all kids are entitled to the same set of standards.” She adds: “Where it’s gone astray is assuming that all kids, including ELL kids, can meet those standards in the same amount of time.” The context for her comment is the fact that her city receives refugees from Somalia and other African countries, many of who have had no experience with formal schooling.

Research shows that a number of factors can influence how quickly a student may learn English. His or her prior educational background is an important factor.

Question from Victor Carrillo, Program Specialist, Tulare County Office of Education:

Is there any comparison of the states that also indicates how many languages they are dealing with effectively? Do the states that earned a B have only one other language?

Christopher B. Swanson:

I am not personally familiar with any national research that deals with this interesting, but nuanced, aspect of language-instruction effectiveness. Two variations of this question actually suggest themselves. Do states serving ELL populations with a greater diversity of languages have a harder time of it? Are states more effective at addressing the needs of students with some languages (e.g., Spanish) versus others (e.g., Arabic)?

Although we don’t look at that issue directly in Quality Counts, I would direct you to the EPE Research Center’s special report, “Perspectives on a Population: English-Language Learners in American Schools.” That was released yesterday and is available at www.edweek.org/go/qc09. In that report you will find a table listing the five most-common non-English languages spoken in each state.

There are a lot of interesting findings there. My favorite: Pennsylvania Dutch is alive and well! It makes the top-five in six states. I know, Pennsylvania Dutch is a German dialect. But that’s how respondents identified their own linguistic background in the database we used (the American Community Survey).

Question from Lee J Dury, Data & Assessment Specialist, NLNS:

Can you comment on any findings about using technology to bridge the language divide in classrooms? For instance, are schools or district providing access to web-based translation services, or providing immersion in English and other languages through programs such as Rosetta Stone? Are these services available to extended family members in addition to enrolled students to improve the school-home collaboration?

Mary Ann Zehr:

Educators have told me that their schools have purchased software by Rosetta Stone and other companies to help students learn English, but I haven’t observed much of this in use. The University of Texas, Austin, has been providing on-line high school courses in Spanish for newcomers to some Texas schools. The program is called Lucha.

Two bloggers, Larry Ferlazzo, a social studies and English teacher for ELLs at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, Calif., and Nik Peachy keep up on technology trends for ELLs.

I’ve visited Larry’s classroom and seen how he has his students create multimedia presentations and post them for students learning English in other countries. The students also e-mail each other and talk about their presentations and their lives. And Larry manages a program at his school that puts computers into the hands of parents and students at home.

Question from Shad White, State Policy Fellow, Pre-K Now:

I did not notice much mention of early education within the analysis on ELLs. What role does a state pre-k program play in preparing ELLs to be ready for school on their first day?

Mary Ann Zehr:

It’s hugely important that ELLs be prepared to attend school. Through their policies, states can do a lot to support pre-K programs that enroll ELLs.

I am aware that California has created pre-school academic standards, which it officially calls “learning foundations,” for ELLs. When I wrote about these standards in November, 2007, officials in California said that the state was the first to have separate preschool standards for ELLs. It seemed to me that the state’s action was an acknowledgment that what ELLs are taught in preschool is very important.

Question from Marie Coich, Project Manager, Afterschool Alliance:

What are some ways that you think that after-school programs can be used as community partners with schools to help bridge the achievement gap for ELL students?

Mary Ann Zehr:

I noticed in visiting the Brownsville Independent School District in Brownsville, Texas, this fall that after school programs were a key component in trying to boost achievement for students in that district. The district won the 2008 Broad Prize for Urban Education for being the nation’s most improved urban school district. About 42 percent of the district’s students are English-language learners. Sylvia Senteno, the principal of Pace High School in Brownsville, told me that she had directed a significant amount of money toward paying teachers to help students before and after school. I noticed when visiting and elementary school there as well that many students stayed after school to receive tutoring from their teachers on the day I was there.

For other examples of how after school programs can be valuable, see the report, “A Race Against the Clock: The Value of Expanded Learning Time for English-Language Learners,” released last month by the Center for American Progress. Question from Victor Carrillo, Program Specialist, Tulare County Office of Education:

Is there research that profiles expected growth rates in English Language Acquisition by primary language? So a child whose primary language is Arabic may have a different timetable than someone whose primary language is Spanish?

Christopher B. Swanson:

This question touches on the same issue as an earlier one – what we know about instructional effectiveness related to students with particular linguistic backgrounds. Although we don’t look at this in Quality Counts, this is definitely an important topic for future research to examine, given the growing size and diversity of the ELL population. I’m not a linguist myself, but I would imagine that it may be more challenging to instruct native speakers of certain languages in learning English (for purely linguistic reasons). However, from the perspective of educational policy, another critical consideration would be the number of instructional specialists qualified to teach in various languages as well as the quality of their preparation. Particularly in smaller and geographically isolated school systems, recruiting teacher specialists of any kind (let along a teacher proficient in Arabic or Hmong) can be a significant challenge.

Question from Jodi Kinnard, Teacher, Luxemburg-Casco School District:

I am an ELL teacher in a small school district. I often feel ineffective, because I am the only ELL teacher, and I’m spread across 11 grade levels with kids at 5 different English levels. Do you see a day coming when legislation would require equitable ELL staffing, such as that which is required for special ed.?

Mary Ann Zehr:

Thank you for you acknowledgment of the difficulty of your job. I’m sure that many ELL teachers can identify with this statement.

Several years ago, I visited a school district in a small town. The district had one ELL teacher at the elementary school level, one at the middle school level, and none at the high school level. Less than half of the students in the district who were identified as ELLs were getting help to learn the language. The superintendent said that without any language help, the ELLs at the high school level seemed to be doing okay. He also said that he couldn’t afford to hire another ELL teacher.

The nation already had laws in place at that time that entitled those high school ELLs to receive a bridge to the curriculum--and get language help. But in some places, it seems, the legislation is not enforced.

It seems to me that the nation has a long way to go before enforcement of legislation for ELLs is as strong as it is for special education. I imagine this has something to do with the fact that immigrant parents are not as familiar with navigating U.S. schools as many parents of students with disabilities are.

Mark Bomster (Moderator):

Thanks for all the great questions in today’s chat, and thanks also to my colleagues Christopher B. Swanson and Mary Ann Zehr. We’d also like to thank our sponsor, CDW-G. A transcript of this chat will be available on Education Week‘s Web site shortly.

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