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ELL Update: 'Islands of Effective Efforts No Longer Sufficient'

A policy update about the education of English-language learners in Texas, and the United States as a whole, says that "after decades of experimentation," the United States now has "islands" of effective instruction. The 15-page overview of ELL instruction across the country says that the growing numbers and distribution of such students "make these islands of effective efforts no longer sufficient for addressing existing and expanding needs."

The update was published by the Intercultural Development Research Association, a private, nonprofit organization with a mission of improving public schools.

The policy update, "Education of English Language Learners in U.S. and Texas Schools—Where We Are, What We Have Learned and Where We Need to Go From Here—A 2009 Update," recommends that state and federal ELL policies be reviewed and revamped on the basis of lessons learned about best practices. It says that major changes should be made in the preparation of administrators and teachers on how to work with English-learners. Lastly, it says that research on ELLs should be improved and strategies used to evaluate programs need to be refined.

The update summarizes the different kinds of educational approaches for English-language learners used across the nation but doesn't provide evidence for which ones are most effective. It does make a statement about programs in Texas, saying that elementary-level ELLs in that state "do relatively well" in transitional bilingual education, but "the state's minimal [English-as-a-second-language] program at the secondary level has produced extremely poor results."

The authors of the policy report contend that federal officials have done little to monitor school districts' compliance with federal requirements to serve ELLs, with the exception of overseeing implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act. It continues: "This lack of oversight has resulted in widespread neglect of ELL student instruction, implementation of poor quality programs, and in some cases a total absence of specialized instruction for ELL students."

This statement struck me because I just finished writing an article about an investigation of services for English-learners in the Salt Lake City school district by the office for civil rights of the U.S. Department of Education, which will be published in the next issue of Education Week. In April, the OCR decided that the school district gave ELLs "meaningful access" to the district's educational programs and released the district from scrutiny of how it serves such students.

It seems to me rather infrequent that someone files a complaint with OCR about the education of ELLs in a school district. But the fact that few people complain doesn't necessarily mean that all is well.

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