English-Language Learners Briefly Stated

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October 29, 2019 6 min read
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5 States Hand Out Most Biliteracy Seals

It wasn’t all that long ago that states and school districts wanted to force students to speak only English. Plenty of them now want to celebrate bilingual skills: 36 states plus the District of Columbia offer biliteracy seals to graduates who demonstrate fluency in two or more languages.

Still, more than 80 percent of students earning the seal are concentrated in just a handful of states, a new report reveals.

The report from sealofbiliteracy.org found that nearly 100,000 students in the class of 2018 earned the honor; 86 percent of those students were from California, North Carolina, Illinois, Virginia, and New Jersey. California alone accounted for nearly 56 percent of the recipients.

Four states that offer the seal—Colorado, Rhode Island, Texas, and Wisconsin—don’t track how many of their students earn it.

Many of the states jumped on the biliteracy-seal bandwagon too late to be included in the report, so its data come from 23 states and D.C.

The numbers show how many seals the individual state bestowed.

Chicago Teachers and District Make Progress, But Sticking Points Remain

The Chicago Teachers Union had hoped for a short strike. As of Oct. 25, it was Day 7, matching the 2012 strike, with the district and the union reporting progress, but no deal.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat who oversees bargaining for the nation’s third-largest district, says the city can’t afford all the union’s demands, citing in large measure its $838 million budget deficit.

But the union disputes that claim, maintaining the city needs to invest in the future.

“At some point our mayor, or someone who can influence her better than we’ve been able to ..., has to say that it is time to put this to bed, to provide our students with what they deserve,” said Stacy Davis Gates, CTU’s vice president, in a press briefing.

At that time, union leaders were prepping for civil-disobedience training for members who are “ready to step it up a notch.”

The union says it has come to terms with the district in many areas but not on key issues. Here’s what the CTU wants:

• Enforceable class-size limitations, pointing to some classrooms that now have close to 40 students.

• A full-time nurse in every school and hundreds more social workers, counselors, and librarians.

• Thirty minutes of prep time before school for elementary teachers.

• A 15 percent teacher pay raise over three years, along with raises for paraprofessionals and other support staff.

On Day 5, as tens of thousands of red-clad educators filled the city’s streets in protest, Lightfoot announced her plan to direct $160 million of a tax-increment-financing surplus to the schools. According to WBEZ Chicago, that money is expected to pay for the offers already on the table—not any of the union’s outstanding demands.

The district has canceled all instruction but kept schools open, so that disadvantaged students have access to meals and a safe place to go. Even so, attendance has been weak, with fewer than 10,000 of the district’s 300,000 students showing up.

Mission Accomplished, Declares Team Bent On Broadband for All

Back in 2013, just 30 percent of school districts were able to take advantage of digital learning. This year? That figure stands at a whopping 99 percent.

So says a new report from EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit that was a driving force behind the modernization of the federal E-rate program. The nonprofit, founded in 2012 to expand broadband access across the country, has declared “mission accomplished” (well, almost) and is planning to sunset next year. The federal E-rate program helps districts and libraries cover the cost of broadband services and more.

So why does the nonprofit think that much of its work has been done? Here are just a few reasons:

• About 46.3 million students have access to broadband, compared with 4 million in 2013.

• The cost of internet access has fallen 90 percent since 2013.

• 94 percent of schools report that digital learning is taking place in at least half their classrooms.

More work remains, says founder and CEO Evan Marwell, in part because 1 percent of kids still lack basic broadband. “We’ve got to do our best to get them over the line.”

Plus, the vast majority of schools are at 100 kilobits, which means that teachers can engage in at least some online learning. But only 38 percent of schools are at 1 megabit, the speed that allows every classroom to be online at the same time, Marwell said.

More importantly, he said, many schools are still figuring out how to leverage technology to effectively boost learning.

Public-Private Group Meets in Secret to Help Students

Its mission: to help “disengaged and disconnected” young people living in poor Connecticut communities, who have dropped out of high school or are at risk of doing so, to succeed.

How? The new public-private organization formed to take on that task may not be willing to divulge that.

At least that’s how parents view what’s been going on with the Partnership for Connecticut, created by the state legislature and financed by a $100 million contribution from the foundation of Barbara and Ray Dalio, the founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, and $100 million in matching state taxpayer funds over five years. The legislation calls for another $100 million from yet-to-be-named philanthropists and business leaders.

The catch: The nonprofit doesn’t have to hold its meetings in public and is also exempt from state open-records law.

Gwen Samuels, the founder of the Connecticut Parents Union, said her organization has begun a petition drive to demand the General Assembly reverse the legislation exempting the organization.

“We have children that have dreams who are in juvenile-justice systems, right? Because we have a broken educational system. I get it. But you don’t get the luxury of doing it in a vacuum. You don’t get the luxury of doing it secretly,” she said. “We support the deal. We oppose the secret.”

The board of directors overseeing the group’s first public meeting, held this month, made assurances their activities will be made public.

Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, a wealthy former businessman, acknowledged Connecticut is “trying something new” with the public-private concept. But he and Barbara Dalio, also a board member, say exempting the partnership from public-disclosure rules will allow the board to have more sensitive conversations.

The intial meeting focused mostly on organizational matters, such as approving an initial operating budget and electing officers. Some comments were even made in public.

The bottom line: Most of the meeting took place in private.

New Crusader Comes to Town: After-School Programs

Batgirl, Captain America, Black Panther. Add a new name to that list of crime fighters: after-school programming.

Though it’s not exactly a catchy phrase, law-enforcement officials strongly believe such programs go a long way toward preventing the crime that occurs at the end of the school day, otherwise known as “prime time for juvenile crime.”

That’s the top-line message from a new report, “From Risk to Opportunity: Afterschool Programs Keep Kids Safe When Juvenile Crime Peaks,” released this month by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a membership group made up of more than 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, and prosecutors across the country, advocating evidence-based solutions that improve the lives of kids while reducing crime and making communities safer.

The report details an analysis of FBI and local law-enforcement data on school day crime rates for youths in 46 states. It found that a majority of states for which data were available saw juvenile crime spike from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

More than 11 million children find themselves in an environment devoid of adult supervision during the after-school hours.

The report makes a case for the positive impact of high-quality after-school programs, which can provide such benefits as homework help, mentors, healthy snacks and meals, computer programming, job and college readiness, sports and fitness activities, the arts, and hands-on, team-based learning.

But the benefits of high-quality after-school programs go beyond in-school performance. Research also found participants were less likely to use drugs and alcohol and less likely to become involved in crime.

Briefly Stated Contributors: Alyson Klein, Associated Press, Corey Mitchell, Tribune News Service, and Madeline Will. Edited by Karen Diegmueller.
A version of this article appeared in the October 30, 2019 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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