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L.A. Unified Officials: Pre-kindergarten ELLs Need Programs, Too

Leaders of the Los Angeles Unified School District would like to see the No Child Left Behind Act reauthorized so that money distributed to states for language-acquisition programs can be used for early-childhood education.

That's one message that David L. Brewer III, who has been superintendent of the school system for nearly a year, and several other district officials took to Capitol Hill this week. Such a provision is not in the "discussion draft" of the House Education and Labor Committee. I heard the school district officials' views when they stopped by Education Week's offices this morning to talk with editors and reporters.

Yolie Flores Aguilar, a board member for the school system, noted that while the No Child Left Behind Act considers English-language learners to be a "subgroup" for accountability purposes, it's an understatement to call them that in Los Angeles because the school system has so many ELLs. (As of this summer, 270,000 of the school district's 701,000 students were English-language learners.) In some of the Los Angeles schools that Ms. Flores Aguilar represents, 75 percent of kindergartners are ELLs, she said. Hence LAUSD wants to be able to use funds from Title III, the section of NCLB authorizing money for ELLs, to start teaching English to some of these children before they get to kindergarten.

Six percent of ELLs in the Los Angeles district, by the way, are taught through bilingual education, which is a higher percentage than in most California school districts. When I asked Mr. Brewer if he favors or opposes bilingual education, he said he hadn't taken a position either way but believes that all U.S. students should know at least two languages. He and the other officials accompanying him said they support the provision in the "discussion draft" for a revised NCLB Act that would require states to create tests for ELLs in their native languages. (More on that, here.)

Mr. Brewer also mentioned that the district's widespread use of the Open Court reading series has not helped ELLs to get the language skills they need, and he plans to have it "modified." He didn't give particulars, however, on how that would happen. (Click here for Education Week article on Open Court in Los Angeles.)

For more about ELLs in Los Angeles schools, see my post, "Los Angeles Stops Using Math Skills as Criteria for English Fluency."

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