Ed. Dept. Falling Short in Support of English-Learners, Report Says

By Lesli A. Maxwell — January 13, 2014 2 min read
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A new, highly critical report concludes that the Obama administration has not paid adequate attention to the needs of English-language learners, the fastest growing group of students in the nation’s public schools.

Published by the BUENO National Policy Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, the report paints a picture of a U.S. Department of Education that has been indifferent to the unique educational needs of English-learners. Scholars at the center carried out a review of the Education Department’s major policies and programs under the leadership of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The report’s author is James J. Lyons, a civil rights attorney and a former executive director of the National Association for Bilingual Education.

Among their chief conclusions:

• Lack of federal resources—The report goes back to 2009 when the Obama administration showered K-12 public schools with nearly $80 billion in stimulus money, noting that “not one dollar” was sunk into Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which supports services for English-learners. (The report, by the way, refers to ELLs as “emergent bilinguals.”)

• Lag in naming head of Office of English-Language Acquisition—It took Secretary Duncan more than a year and a half after arriving at the Education Department to name the first OELA director, and when she stepped down, it took nearly another year to name Libia S. Gil, the current director.

• Shortage of qualified teachers—For this, the report assigns blame to the department because, unlike its push to train 100,000 teachers in the STEM subjects, there’s been no similar effort to increase the supply of teachers to work with English-learners.

• Waivers bad for ELLs—Because of new accountability rules for most states that have received federal waivers from some requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, the report concludes that in many states, the actual performance of ELLs is masked.

Some of these findings are similar to what was borne out in reporting I did more than year ago for an Education Week story on this same topic.

Should the Ed. Dept. have a response to these conclusions, I’ll update the post. In the meantime, you can see the full report below:

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