English-Language Learners Opinion

A New Tool for Effectively Educating English Learners

By Charles Taylor Kerchner — September 24, 2014 3 min read
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(On California has been exploring the twin topics of budget flexibility under the state’s Local Control Funding Formula and the problems of educating its 1.4 million English Learners, a third of the total in the United States. Today, Patricia Gándara, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, brings these two topics together as she advocates for a tool schools can use to better direct funds toward the needs of EL students.)

By guest blogger Patricia Gándara

The Civil Rights Project at UCLA just released guidance on how schools and districts can most effectively spend LCFF funds to significantly narrow the achievement gaps between its English Learners (ELs) and all other students.

This new tool consists of 31 research-based recommendations that follow the state’s eight priority areas. However, the document argues that school-related services for ELs need to go beyond established practices or simply improving compliance with the existing education code. The new funding formula should provide an opportunity for schools to innovate. But because no school or district will be able to implement all recommendations, the document provides a menu of options that can be chosen based on local priorities.

The Civil Rights Project recommends that the tool be used as a template against which to assess how well current budget priorities align with research-based practices. Suggested metrics are also provided to help schools and districts measure progress toward implementing these practices.

Under Priority 1, Basic Services, the document highlights the importance of using funds to attract bilingual teachers and other school personnel who can communicate with both students and parents to engage their support. Under Basic Services, are also recommendations such as additional instructional time, including full day kindergarten and preschool, to the extent possible, improved nutrition during school hours, and increases in social support personnel such as counselors, librarians, and nurses, preferably that speak the language of the families.

Priority 2, Implementation of State Standards, includes recommendations for assessing the professional development needs of both teachers and administrators and building an infrastructure of strong professional development focused on aligning ELD and Common Core Standards.

Parent Involvement recommendations, under Priority 3, include such things as family literacy programs and the hiring of more bilingual staff to interact with parents. Recommendations under Priority 4, Pupil Achievement, include building more dual language programs that can help students obtain the Seal of Biliteracy, an award affixed to the diplomas of students who graduate from high school demonstrating strong proficiency in both English and another language. [A study we just published found that two-thirds of California employers had a preference for hiring bilingual individuals over monolingual English speakers!] The guidance also argues for placing greater focus on the quality of EL programs rather than just on reclassification rates.

There are many recommendations under Priority 5, Pupil Engagement, however one that is key is connecting every EL to an extracurricular activity at school—something that helps students develop a supportive peer network and binds them to the school. School Climate, Course Access, and Other Pupil Outcomes are the remaining state priorities and under these we include such things as increasing opportunities to be integrated with native English speakers and high achieving students.

English Learners are too often tracked into watered down classes that exacerbate achievement gaps and do not prepare them for postsecondary options, which is why many educators advocate for transitioning them out of EL programs as quickly as possible. But this is treating the symptom rather than the disease. The recommendations provided in this document are focused on creating the strongest possible program for ELs with the new LCFF funds.

The opinions expressed in On California are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.