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English-Learners New to the U.S. Are Focus of Education Department Initiative

By Corey Mitchell — September 23, 2015 2 min read
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Cross-posted from the Learning the Language blog

The U.S. Education Department is developing a tool kit specifically for educators who work with immigrant English-learners who are new to the country, said Libia Gil, the head of the U.S. Department of Education’s office of English-language acquisition.

The upcoming how-to guide will mark the latest federal effort to provide an equitable education for ELLs, the largest-growing segment of the United States’ public school population. The document could be released as early as December, Gil said.

This week, leaders from the Departments of Education and Justice celebrated the completion of a tool kit designed to help public schools ensure that all English-learners have access to a quality education. That tool kit is “just the foundation,” Gil said. “That’s the least we should be doing.”

Roughly one in 10 students nationally is an English-language learner. Their rights have emerged as a significant policy focus for the Education Department as the percentage of ELLs in schools has increased nationwide.

John King, a senior adviser to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, acknowledged that the recently completed English-learner tool kit is merely the department’s “first installment” in support of ELLs.

King spoke about the department’s efforts during a press event Monday at Bruce-Monroe Elementary School in the District of Columbia. D.C. schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, also spoke at Bruce-Monroe, home to one of the district’s eight Spanish dual-language programs. Somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of students at Bruce-Monroe are English-language learners.

The English-learner population in the D.C. schools has grown by 17 percent over the last three years, rising to about 5,200 this school year, Henderson said. In May, Education Week wrote about the International Academy for English-language learners at D.C.'s Cardozo Education Campus, a school-within-a-school for students who arrived in the United States within the past 18 months.

The newly-announced guidance for newcomer ELLs would serve to aid educators working with students like those at the International Academy, who arrive to the country facing language and, often, cultural barriers.

Many of the newcomers are among the rising number of unaccompanied children and youth who cross the U.S.-Mexico border, as they flee strife in their homelands. As they enter American classrooms, the students, many with yearlong gaps in their formal education and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, represent a significant new challenge for schools, educators say.

See Also

In U.S. Schools, Undocumented Youths Strive to Adjust

Feds Offer Guide to Providing Quality Education for English-Language Learners

Federal Civil Rights Officials Release Guidance on English-Language Learners

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