ELLs and the Debate Over the No Child Left Behind Rewrite

By Lesli A. Maxwell — July 18, 2013 2 min read
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The full U.S. House of Representatives is edging ever so much closer to voting on a Republican-written overhaul of the Elementary Secondary and Education Act, and a large coalition of education and advocacy organizations are urging members of Congress to reject it on the grounds that English-language learners and Hispanic students would be irreparably harmed by its passage. (President Obama said yesterday he’d veto the bill.)

The Hispanic Education Coalition, which brings together 20 civil rights and education advocacy groups such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the League of United Latin American Citizens, has sent a letter to all members of the House this morning warning members that a vote for the Student Success Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Kline, a Minnesota Republican, would allow states to return to the past and “ignore the educational disparities of racial and ethnic minorities, ELs, economically disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities.”

Specifically, the coalition says the measure eliminates the federal performance targets for subgroups such as English-learners, which have been required for the last dozen years under NCLB. It also strongly objects to the bill’s proposal to move Title III funding for English-language-acquisition programs, along with those for migrant students into the broader Title I provision of the law. Doing so, the coalition, argues, strips away the requirement that states must spend federal funds specifically on the needs of those students.

The coalition also opposes how the measure would make permanent the cuts to education funding brought by the sequestration. That, they argue, falls disproportionately hard on Hispanic students, who make up a third of the population of low-income students served by Title I funding, and two-thirds of those served by Title III.

Alyson Klein of Politics K-12 is all over this story, so read all her posts to get up to speed on the policy details and politics at play in this debate.

The measure does include a major semantic change from the No Child Left Behind Act: No longer would English-language learners be referred to as being “limited English proficient,” or LEP, for short. That label has always been offensive to advocates and many educators, who say it conveys a message that English-learner students are somehow deficient. It also would change the timing on when districts and states have to test English-learners who are new arrivals to the United States. Currently, students who’ve been in U.S. schools for at least one year must be tested; this measure would bump that up to three years.

It also would change the data that the U.S. Department of Education relies on to determine how much funding states should get for English-language-acquisition programs. Currently, the department uses data gathered from the American Community Survey, rather than state-reported counts of English-learners. That has led to major funding shortfalls in states like California. The Kline bill would also allow state-reported data on the number of students who do not demonstrate proficiency on annual English-language-proficiency assessments to be used in determining funding.

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