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Wake County, N.C., Schools Aim to Cap Number of ELLs Per School


I may be out of touch, but a Dec. 7 article in The News & Observer is the first news coverage I've seen of a plan by a school district to intentionally spread out the number of English-language learners in its schools because of accountability provisions under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The article says that some board members of the Wake County, N.C., school district have argued that it's necessary to more evenly distribute the number of ELLs in schools so that individual schools are not overburdened with students who are struggling to pass standardized tests.

At a recent board meeting, the board approved a policy intended to create a better balance across schools of children from low-income families and children performing below grade level on state reading tests, as well as ELLs. At one elementary school in Wake County, ELLs make up 47 percent of student enrollment, the article says.

The board discussed a cap of 15 percent for ELLs per school but removed that provision before the policy was adopted so more research could be conducted to determine what would be an appropriate limit, according to Chuck Dulaney, the assistant superintendent for growth and planning for the Wake County district, who answered a few questions for me about the policy in an e-mail message. The approved policy, now in effect, says that every school should have less than 40 percent of its students qualifying for free- and reduced-price lunches. It calls for a balance across schools for ELLs but doesn't contain a specific limit.

I'm wondering if other school districts have moved ELLs around in schools to lessen the impact of possible sanctions under NCLB or if they have plans to do so.

Is schooling in America entering a new era of busing ELLs?


This is an excellent example of the perverse incentives created by No Child Left Behind. The district feels pressure to disperse English language learners -- not for any pedagogical reason -- but for fear that ELLs' low scores on English-language tests will unfairly penalize individual schools.

The injustice is real. NCLB now judges schools, in large part, based on factors beyond their control. Whether they are labeled failing or successful should not depend on the demographic profile of their students. But the solution is not to manipulate those demographics in ways that poorly serve kids.

While we should avoid segregating ELLs from English-proficient students, it's clearly advantageous to concentrate resources so as to teach them effectively with full-fledged programs and well trained personnel. If ELLs are widely dispersed within a district, that's less likely to happen.

No doubt NCLB enthusiasts would criticize the Wake County schools for "gaming the system." A better idea would be to get rid of NCLB and create a fair accountability system that doesn't need to be "gamed" at the expense of kids.

Spreading ELs throughout the district seems to be an option; however in a district where the majority of the student population is EL, that option is very limited.
Teaching strategies when working with ELs, and coaching could be more effective. Creating model schools accross the state.
California has a new EL population (life-long learners), and as such; new curriculum, new textbooks and new teaching strategies need to be developed and put in place.

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