Federal

Feds Prompt Massachusetts to Require ELL Training

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — September 28, 2011 4 min read

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted Tuesday to take steps to require special training for teachers who teach academic content to English-language learners after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation found the state had violated students’ civil rights, largely by placing too many of them in classes with inadequately prepared teachers.

Massachusetts Commissioner of Education Mitchell D. Chester will develop and propose new regulations to the board by February 2012. The regulations will “define the preparation and training that teachers must have in order to instruct ELL students in academic content, along with a plan for implementing the new regulations,” according to a release from the Department of Justice. They are anticipated to be made available for public comment in March 2012 and to undergo a final review by the Board in June 2012.

According to the federal investigators, the state education department reported this year that more than 45,000 teachers in 275 school districts across the state “continued to need training” in teaching English-language learners. The Justice Department’s July 22 letter says the problems stem from the implementation of the state’s sheltered-English-immersion program, in which ELLs may spend some time learning English as a second language but get all their content instruction in English. Certification is required for teachers of ESL classes, but training for content-area teachers is not mandated, is often difficult for teachers to obtain, and is potentially out of date, according to the federal agency.

The state education department “failed to take appropriate action” by not mandating training in the program it had chosen, wrote Emily H. McCarthy, the deputy chief of the federal agency’s educational opportunities section.

The Board’s September 27 resolution specifies that the new regulations must define the contents and delivery methods of an improved program and mandate training in that improved program for all teachers of ELLs.

The Justice Department had previously investigated ELL programs in Boston, Worcester, and Somerset, Mass., and launched its statewide investigation after concluding that shortcomings there were related to state policy. (“Boston Settles With Federal Officials in ELL Probe,” Oct. 1, 2010.)

Mr. Chester said that new training requirements would be enacted through licensure and relicensure standards for teachers. Richard Stutman, the president of the Boston Teachers Union, said the union agreed with the federal findings and “had always supported training” teachers of English-language learners: “We think the state should mandate the training and assist districts in paying for it.”

However, funding that training may be an issue. According to the federal agency’s letter, the state education department requested $1 million in state funds in the 2009 fiscal year to help deliver sheltered-English-immersion training to teachers but received less than half that amount that year.

At least 50,000 Massachusetts teachers serve English-language learners in their classrooms, according to state officials. Commissioner Chester said that while Massachusetts’ student population has hovered near 1 million, the proportion of ELLs has continued to rise, continually increasing the need for more training. About 68,000 ELLs are currently students in Massachusetts’ public school system. “We have been very, very focused on ELLs in the almost four years that I’ve been here,” he added.

Roger L. Rice, the executive director of Multicultural Education, Training, and Advocacy, of Somerville, Mass., said that the Justice Department was “absolutely correct in finding a massive civil rights violation” in Massachusetts and that, as the report indicates, the program itself should be evaluated, not just the number of teachers who are trained. In a state that prides itself on academic achievement, he noted, “ELL kids are not closing the achievement gap.”

The current system is the result of a 2002 state ballot initiative that replaced bilingual education with sheltered-English immersion and “up-ended the infrastructure for serving ELLs,” Mr. Chester said. He added that evidence did not clearly demonstrate whether the current program or its predecessor had been more successful, but he pointed to a slow increase in ELL students’ scores over time on state exams.

Search for Best Methods

Mr. Stutman said his union was “distressed” to hear of the report’s finding that the training might not be high-quality. “That suggests that some of the training”—which took more than 80 hours—“may have been in vain,” he said. The Justice Department’s September 27 release specifically acknowledges the “efforts of districts, teachers and their unions to participate in the current SEI training even in the absence of a state mandate.”

The Justice Department’s Ms. McCarthy said the federal agency’s expectations for the state were clear: “The state’s obligation under EEOA [the Equal Education Opportunities Act] is to ensure that the program it mandates is implemented appropriately. If you don’t have the teachers trained, obviously you can’t implement the program. But if you mandate training that doesn’t allow teachers to implement the mandated program, that’s also a problem.”

Mr. Chester said his agency would address these concerns by searching for the “best methodologies and approaches” to teaching ELLs. In the meantime, Massachusetts teachers will continue teaching the state’s ELL students using the system currently in place.

A version of this article appeared in the September 28, 2011 edition of Education Week as Feds Prompt Massachusetts to Require ELL Training

Events

School & District Management Live Event EdWeek Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
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
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
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
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education

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 Biden Taps Ex-Obama Aide Roberto Rodriguez for Key Education Department Job
Rodriguez served as a top education staffer to President Barack Obama and currently leads a teacher-advocacy organization.
3 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
Getty
Federal Biden Pitches Plan to Expand Universal Pre-K, Free School Meal Programs, Teacher Training
The president's $1.8 trillion American Families Plan faces strong headwinds as Congress considers other costly administration proposals.
8 min read
President Joe Biden addresses Congress from the House chamber. Behind him are Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress Wednesday night, as Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., applaud.<br/>
Chip Somodevilla/AP
Federal Education Department Kicks Off Summer Learning Collaborative
The Summer Learning and Enrichment Collaborative will boost programs for students acutely affected by COVID-19 in 46 states.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, left, talks with Fort LeBoeuf Middle School teacher Laura Friedman during a discussion on safely returning to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic on March 3, 2021.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, left, talks with Fort LeBoeuf Middle School teacher Laura Friedman during a discussion on safely returning to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
Greg Wohlford/Erie Times-News via TNS
Federal As 100-Day Mark Approaches, Has Biden Met His School Reopening Goal? And What Comes Next?
President Joe Biden faces a self-imposed deadline of having most K-8 schools open for in-person learning by his hundredth day in office.
6 min read
First Lady Jill Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona tour Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, in Meriden, Ct., on March 3, 2021.
First lady Jill Biden and U.S. Secretary of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona tour Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, in Meriden, Ct., in March.
Mandel Ngan/AP