Teaching

Four Cities Cited for Successful ELL Policies

By Mary Ann Zehr — October 22, 2009 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Large urban school districts that are successful with English-language learners provide strong oversight from the central office for educating those students, ensure that general education teachers as well as specialists receive professional development on how to work with ELLs, and use student data in a meaningful way to improve instruction for that population.

By contrast, districts that haven’t had that success with English-learners lack a coherent vision for educating them, limit access to the general curriculum for such students, don’t use disaggregated student data in a systematic way, and haven’t given authority and adequate resources to the district office in charge of ELLs.

See Also

For more information on how English-language learners are putting schools to the test, read Quality Counts 2009: Portrait of a Population, a special report from Education Week.

Those are findings released last week by the Council of the Great City Schools in a report on the common best practices of four large urban districts that have significantly improved ELL achievement, compared with two urban districts that have not. The four districts deemed successful are Dallas, San Francisco, New York City, and St. Paul, Minn. They were selected in part based on strong growth in achievement by ELLs in the 3rd and 4th grades on state reading tests between 2002 and 2006. The study did not name the two districts that have produced lackluster achievement.

“There was really a palpable difference between cities where the kids were making gains and places where kids weren’t,” said Michael D. Casserly, the executive director of the Washington-based council. “It wasn’t a matter simply of adopting this program or that one. It was a broader set of issues that the district needed to address.”

One of the glaring limitations in the unsuccessful schools is a lack of access to the regular curriculum, Mr. Casserly said. “There are lots of situations where districts are not terribly cognizant of how the design of their programs excludes some kids,” he said. “We saw that not only in the districts [in the study] where the kids weren’t making progress, but we see it as we do our technical assistance in cities that were not included in this study.”

Even in the four districts studied that the council considers to be attentive to the needs of ELLs, Mr. Casserly said the researchers did not find a program that was exemplary in educating one particular group of students, them—those who have been enrolled in U.S. schools for seven or more years and have yet to test “fluent” in English.

‘A Whole System’

Joel Gomez, the associate dean for research at George Washington University’s graduate school of education and human development, in Washington, said the report rightly points out that it’s not just one component of education that makes for a district’s success in educating English-learners. “It’s not just curriculum, not just teacher preparation, not just assessment—it’s a whole system, an integrated approach to educating a large segment of the population.”

Mr. Gomez, an expert in the education of ELLs, added, however, that while the report’s spotlight on the district level is meaningful, “more needs to be made out of the fact that the system includes the state, not just the school district. Many times the school district needs to dance to the tune of the state.”

For example, state requirements on the preparation of teachers to work with ELLs are crucial, he said.

Mr. Casserly said the researchers did, in fact, ask districts about the role of states, but “didn’t find any common themes among the states that appeared to affect how the kids were doing at the district level.” Unfortunately, he said, the study doesn’t indicate that states are playing an important role in the academic progress of ELLs.

Candace Harper, an associate professor of education at the University of Florida, in Gainesville, said she appreciates the report’s acknowledgment that districts need to recognize professional expertise on how to educate English-learners in making both curricular and administrative decisions. “This emphasis on alignment and integration of ELL issues with general school policies and practices is an important shift from the isolated intervention approach and generic ‘best practices’ that ignore ELL-specific needs,” she wrote in an e-mail.

A version of this article appeared in the October 28, 2009 edition of Education Week as Study Cites Four Urban Districts for Successful Policies on ELLs

Events

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
Future of the First Amendment:Exploring Trends in High School Students’ Views of Free Speech
Learn how educators are navigating student free speech issues and addressing controversial topics like gender and race in the classroom.
Content provided by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
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
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

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

Teaching Opinion Schools Just Let Out, But What Are the Best Ways to Begin the Coming Year?
The No. 1 piece of advice from teachers: Get to know your students.
2 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Teaching Looping: Here's What Happens When Students Have the Same Teacher More Than Once
A new study finds the practice translates to academic and behavioral benefits.
5 min read
Image of a "looping" concept for classrooms.
PytyCzech and iStock/Getty
Teaching Opinion 'Arts & Crafts': Busywork or Enhanced Learning?
With planning, teachers can use creative projects to add value to the curriculum.
14 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Teaching Opinion In 6 Words, More Teaching Advice
Ponder this gem: "Want respect? Respect your students first."
2 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty