Federal

Boston Settles With Federal Officials in ELL Probe

By Mary Ann Zehr — October 01, 2010 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The U.S. departments of Justice and Education reached a settlement agreement today on how the Boston public school system will fix violations of the civil rights of English-language learners.

Since 2003, the Boston district “has failed to properly identify and adequately serve thousands of English Language Learner (ELL) students as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” the Justice Department said in a press release issued Oct. 1. The school district cooperated with a joint investigation by the two federal departments into those violations.

The 44-page agreement requires that, starting this school year, all of Boston’s 135 schools provide services to English-language learners, even if the schools don’t have large numbers of such students, something that wasn’t happening before. It also includes a mandate that the district offer “compensatory services” to students who previously had been deemed as “opting out” of language services that they were entitled to receive under federal law. Those make-up services will be offered during out-of-school hours—including after school, during summer, and on Saturdays—to make up for the ELL help that students should have gotten but didn’t.

The Boston settlement agreement is the result of one of 15 investigations into ELL programs at school districts that the Justice Department has opened since President Barack Obama took office in January 2009.

One way that the federal agencies have found the Boston district to be in violation of federal law is that the district inappropriately categorized many students as having “opted out” of language support.

Carol Johnson, the schools superintendent in Boston, where 28 percent of the district’s 56,000 students are ELLs, said in an interview today that the school system has been hard at work for a year in trying to bring its schools into compliance with federal civil rights law. The effort has involved training some 2,000 teachers in how to work with English-learners, retesting 7,000 students in their English skills, and mapping out plans to accelerate the learning of ELLs who should have previously gotten services but didn’t.

“We had to be fairly aggressive in our planning. We looked school by school at who was being served and who wasn’t,” Ms. Johnson said.

‘Comprehensive’ Settlement

The district has agreed to spend $10 million on improving ELL services, an expenditure that began last school year and will continue this school year. About $8.2 million of that money is being supplied by the American Recovery and Investment Act, the 2009 federal economic-stimulus legislation.

Roger L. Rice, the executive director of Multicultural Education, Training, and Advocacy of Somerville, Mass., praised the agreement as being “comprehensive,” compared with other settlement agreements on ELL services that have had the stamp of the Justice Department.

But he said he wasn’t satisfied with the extent of the compensatory services required of the Boston district. Those services should be provided during the regular school day, he said. Mr. Rice observed that many ELLs are obligated to get jobs or babysit to help support their families, and that those duties will compete with their ability to make up the services during out-of-school hours.

In addition, he said, it seems that the compensatory services “are not instructionally linked to what goes on during the school year.”

But Eileen De Los Reyes, Boston’s assistant superintendent for English-language learners, said that ELLs have already responded well to the district’s offerings on Saturdays and during the summer. “What I would not want to do is disrupt their day more,” she said. “They need to participate in the life of the school.”

She also stressed that the students eligible for the makeup services are already getting ELL services and academic-content classes tailored to their needs during the school day. The makeup services are also connected with what ELLs learn during the school day because the district provides the materials and teachers for them, she added.

The agreement doesn’t give a number for how many students are eligible for the makeup services. But Ms. De Los Reyes said 4,000 students who were found to be inappropriately categorized as having opted out of services are eligible, as well as 4,300 students who hadn’t been properly identified as ELLs because of testing issues.

Another important area of the agreement refers to the quality of services given to students at the secondary school level, which Mr. Rice describes as having been “horrible” in the past.

Spelling It Out

The agreement requires that ELLs be taught core academic content by teachers who use “sheltered-content instructional techniques,” or teaching methods tailored for such students. Examples of approaches “to make lessons understandable” for ELLs include grouping students by language-proficiency level, adapting materials and texts, providing visuals, giving native-language support or clarification, and facilitating students’ ability to work cooperatively, the agreement says. In addition, the agreement specifies that those sheltered classes be taught by either certified English-as-a-second-language teachers or teachers who have received a minimum level of training in ELL strategies, which Ms. De Los Reyes said is 70 hours.

The agreement says that, by December, all core-content instruction should be provided by teachers certified in the content area and adequately trained to work with ELLs.

The federal scrutiny isn’t the only effort highlighting problems with services to ELLs in Boston’s schools. In 2008, a state review of the school system’s ELL programs said educators told parents to opt out if programs were full or if they chose to send their children to schools that didn’t have ELL programs. A report last year by the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy, at the University of Massachusetts Boston, found that the district wasn’t properly assessing and identifying many students as ELLs.

In May 2009, the Boston district hired Ms. De Los Reyes and charged her with addressing the lack of services to ELLs that were featured in the 2008 state review.

She said the settlement agreement was the result of a strong collaboration with the Justice and Education departments. “The agreement is a continuation of what we were already doing this past year,” she said.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the October 13, 2010 edition of Education Week

Events

Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Proven Strategies to Improve Reading Scores
In this webinar, education and reading expert Stacy Hurst will provide a look at some of the biggest issues facing curriculum coordinators, administrators, and teachers working in reading education today. You will: Learn how schools
Content provided by Reading Horizons

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Miguel Cardona Came in as a Teacher Champion. Has COVID Muted His Message?
The education secretary is taking heat from some who say his advocacy is overshadowed by Biden's push to keep schools open.
11 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona talks to students at White Plains High School in White Plains, N.Y. on April 22, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona talks to students at White Plains High School in White Plains, N.Y., last April.
Mark Lennihan/AP
Federal Citing Educator and Parent Anxieties, Senators Press Biden Officials on Omicron Response
Lawmakers expressed concern about schools' lack of access to masks and coronavirus tests, as well as disruptions to in-person learning.
5 min read
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the president, testify before a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine the federal response to COVID-19 and new emerging variants, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president, testify at a Senate hearing about the federal response to COVID-19.
Greg Nash/Pool via AP
Federal Miguel Cardona Should Help Schools Push Parents to Store Guns Safely, Lawmakers Say
More than 100 members of Congress say a recent shooting at a Michigan high school underscores the need for Education Department action.
3 min read
Three Oakland County Sheriff's deputies survey the grounds outside of the residence of parents of the Oxford High School shooter on Dec. 3, 2021, in Oxford, Mich.
Three Oakland County Sheriff's deputies survey the grounds outside of the Crumbley residence while seeking James and Jennifer Crumbley, parents of Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley, on Dec. 3, 2021, in Oxford, Mich.
Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP
Federal In Reversal, Feds Seek to Revive DeVos-Era Questions About Sexual Misconduct by Educators
The Education Department's decision follows backlash from former education Secretary Betsy DeVos and other conservatives.
4 min read
Illustration of individual carrying binary data on his back to put back into the organized background of 1s and 0s.
iStock/Getty Images Plus