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House Committee Releases Draft For Reauthorizing Title III

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The House Labor and Education Committee has released a discussion draft for reauthorizing the Title III section of the No Child Left Behind Act that charges the U.S. Secretary of Education with figuring out a method to identify English-language learners that can be used to reliably distribute funds for such students. Title III is the section of the federal education law that authorizes funding for English-acquisition programs.

A summary of the discussion draft says that requirement is meant to address recommendations contained in a December 2006 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office pointing out problems with the two sources for data permitted for divvying up the funds: estimates by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, and data collected by states themselves. Data problems have resulted in yo-yo federal funding in some states, such as Arkansas, according to news reports (See my earlier post, here.)

The draft of Title III also requires states to include some new information in the plans they submit to the U.S. Department of Education. They must show that English-language learners have "access to the full curriculum in a manner that is understandable to and appropriately addresses the linguistic needs of such children." In addition, states must describe how they ensure that all teachers are fluent in English and any other language used for instruction. The draft specifies teachers should have both oral and written fluency but doesn't specify how states should measure that.

The requirement for states to show that teachers are fluent in English is interesting, given that just last week, Arizona evaluators reported that some teachers of ELLs in that state don't have a command of English, according to local newspapers (see earlier post on this, here.)

The House committee discussion draft gives a nod to bilingual education by saying, explicitly, that school districts can use federal funds for "developing instructional programs that promote academic proficiency in more than one language." Those kinds of programs are funded now under NCLB, but the federal education law doesn't spell it out in such detail.

One more thing: Those concerned about terminology may be happy to learn that the draft proposal uses the term "English-language learners," the preferred term in the field for children who are learning English as a new language, rather than "limited-English-proficient students," which is the term currently used in the No Child Left Behind Act. Some educators don't like to use the word "limited" in connection with children because they feel it implies the children are lacking something rather than simply acquiring a new skill.

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Considering the large number of English learners who are poorly served today via stopgap programs such as "ESL pullout," the Miller-McKeon proposals for Title III sound like an improvement. They would require state plans to explain how ELL students would be ensured "access to the full curriculum in a manner that is understandable to and appropriately addresses the linguistic needs of such children."

Before anyone gets too excited about this amendment, though, it's important to recognize that they're talking about paperwork requirements, rather than a provision that anyone plans to enforce in actual schools. Like a lot of high-minded declarations in NCLB (and the Miller-McKeon bill), this one is mostly window-dressing.

On the other hand, Congress could make a real difference by inserting the ELL-access requirement into NCLB's accountability system. It should hold schools accountable not just for ELLs' test performance but, more importantly, for providing them a well-thought-out program designed by experts, as well as adequate resources and trained staff to make the program work. In other words, true accountability would mean including "inputs" as well as "outputs."

This is precisely what the Institute for Language and Education Policy has proposed for Title I. See our response to the Miller-McKeon bill at: http://www.elladvocates.org/documents/nclb/ILEP_TitleI_Letter_Sept_5_07.pdf

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