English-Language Learners

Helping Newcomer English-Language Learners Earn High School Diplomas

By Corey Mitchell — November 02, 2017 2 min read
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For immigrant and refugee English-language learners who arrive in the United States as middle and high school students, the stakes are high.

The newcomers—many of whom arrive with gaps in their formal education—are expected to grasp lessons in a new language and complete a high school diploma before they age out of the system, all while they’re adjusting to a new culture and country.

Federal education laws have also ratcheted up the pressure on the schools that serve them. Schools and districts now bear more responsibility, and are evaluated on how effectively they bring those students up to speed in English and support their efforts to stick with their studies until graduation day.

Drawing examples from school districts with sizable immigrant populations, a new report from the Migration Policy Institute examines the key challenges middle and high schools face in seeking to meet the needs, both instructional and social-emotional, of these youth.

The report, “Beyond Teaching English: Supporting High School Completion by Immigrant and Refugee Students,” explores how schools in places such as Fairfax County, Va., Los Angeles and New York rely on local, state and federal resources to design programs, develop curriculum and hire more staff to work directly with English-learner students.

The debate over how to best serve this student subgroup has emerged as a pressing national issue. A February report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine detailed how under-resourced schools and under-prepared educators can hinder efforts to help those students learn and master English.

Education Week has reported on the struggles that immigrant newcomers often face in adjusting to school, the resources that educators should have at their disposal to ease the transition and what challenges the students face once they reach graduation day.

Starting with the school registration process, the Migration Policy report takes a step-by-by approach to spelling out the services and accommodations that many immigrant and refugee students need to succeed in school. That list includes access to legal aid for students facing the threat of deportation or detention and mental health services for students who may be dealing with the trauma of violence from their home countries.

The report also offers insight to educators serving newcomer students in schools with a small number of English-learners.

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Photo credit: Kenia, who came to the United States from Honduras, participates in a graduation award ceremony at her Charlotte, N.C., high school in 2016. -- Chris Keane for Education Week

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