A One-Stop Shop for Info. on Federal ELL Programs

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 13, 2010 2 min read
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In the new Administrator’s Guide to Federal Programs for English Learners, Ellen Forte and Molly Faulkner-Bond offer answers to many questions that educators of English-learners may have trouble extracting from the federal government.

Take the issue of home-language surveys, for example. When I was writing about the use of home-language surveys by schools, I exchanged e-mails back and forth with the Education Department numerous times over several weeks to get an answer to the question, “Does the federal government require a home-language survey?” The answer, by the way, is “no.” Federal law requires that school districts have a process for identifying English-language learners, and home-language surveys are universally used in that process. In fact, 49 states have them.

The guide has these sentences about home-language surveys, which would have been useful for my story. “Because it is not specifically mandated, there is no federal model for [a home-language survey]. It is, however, a highly important document, as it makes the first distinction between students who will be flagged as potential [English learners].”

The guide offers lots of other practical information, such as descriptions of court rulings pertaining to the education of English-language learners. It also lists 20 factors that administrators should consider in choosing a language program. Among them are the diversity of the ELL population in a school and the availability of instructors with training in English as a second language and/or fluency in other languages.

Meanwhile, the federal government recently had very little to say about choosing language programs in a paper it recently released intended to describe research backing proposals in its blueprint for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The paper provided one paragraph on the subject, which started with the following sentence: “While there are certain practices that have been shown to benefit [English-learners], more research and evaluation is needed on the types of language-instruction educational programs that are most effective for ELs.” In the paragraph, it gives no specifics describing kinds of programs, except to say that “peer-assisted learning opportunities during which EL students work in structured pair activities” are beneficial.

Forte, by the way, was a prominent consultant for the Education Department during the days of the Bush administration’s LEP Partnership, a collaboration between state and federal officials to address issues affecting ELLs. She also is the founder of the business, edCount.

I don’t have deep-enough knowledge about federal programs to vouch for the accuracy of the information in the guide, but I didn’t see anything in skimming various sections that raised red flags. The guide, published by Thompson, costs $229, plus shipping and handling. The promotion for it says schools can use their federal grant dollars to pay for it.

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