ELL Gurus Have Their Say on the Next ESEA

By Mary Ann Zehr — March 29, 2010 2 min read
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Requirements for English-language learners in the next Elementary and Secondary Education Act will look a lot different from what they do in the current one, if members of Congress listen to a group of nationally known researchers on English-language learners.

The next ESEA should make the category of English-learners stable so that students stay in it for accountability purposes even after they leave special programs to learn the language, says the group. States should adopt criteria for identifying and classifying ELLs that are the same for all districts within a state, the group says. (That would be a big change for California, which gives school districts discretion in classifying and reclassifying ELLs.)

Another big change proposed by the researchers is that the ESEA should consider English as a second language a core academic subject and thus require that ESL teachers be “highly qualified” in the subject.

Called the Working Group on ELL Policy, the group of researchers includes big names in the field such as Kenji Hakuta, Diane August, and Donna Christian. Previously, the group put out a paper urging states and districts to use federal stimulus funds for economic recovery to benefit ELLs.

Now, the group has released recommendations with detailed supporting arguments in five areas of education or accountability that affect ELLs. A couple of themes running through the recommendations are that the next ESEA should better back schools’ efforts to teach bilingual education, and it should take into account the amount of time it takes ELLs to learn English and how both their English-proficiency levels and time affect their academic progress.

The paper doesn’t comment directly on provisions for ELLs proposed in the Obama administration’s blueprint for reauthorization of the ESEA that was released March 13, though it was officially submitted to the federal government as a response to that blueprint.

One of the biggest changes for ELLs in the administration’s plan is that states would be required to implement a system to evaluate the effectiveness of ELL programs. Don Soifer of the conservative Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., thinks that’s a bad idea. See what my colleague Dakarai Aarons wrote about ELLs and the Obama administration’s proposal in this week’s issue of EdWeek.

The Obama administration’s plan also calls for states to establish new criteria to ensure consistent statewide identification of students as ELLs and duration of services for them, which sounds to me very similar to one of the recommendations also made by the Working Group on ELLs.

Readers, I invite you to weigh in on any of the recommendations from the Obama administration or the researchers.

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