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Feds Asked to Withhold Race to Top Funds From Boston

Latino advocacy groups asked U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last week to ensure that the Boston school system doesn't get any Race to the Top funds until it brings its programs for English-language learners into compliance with federal laws. The Boston school district would stand to receive federal stimulus funds if Massachusetts gets its application for such funds approved.

Lawyers from Multicultural Education, Training, and Advocacy, Inc., an advocacy group for ELLs based in Somerville, Mass., sent a letter to Secretary Duncan on Feb. 3 expressing "deep concern with the ongoing history of violations of the basic civil rights of Latino and other English-language-learner students in the Boston Public Schools." The letter was also signed by representatives of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Latino Justice, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the National Council of La Raza.

The letter asked Secretary Duncan not to transfer Race to the Top money to Boston schools unless it improves its programs for ELLs in several ways, which were spelled out in an attached letter that had been sent to Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester on Dec. 30. Among the points for improvement are that the school system would ensure that all ELL students who haven't been receiving special help to learn English would be identified and receive such instruction by a certified English-as-a-second-language teacher by September of this year. Another point is that Boston should hire no fewer than 120 certified ESL teachers over the next three school years, starting with 30 ESL teachers this school year.

A state review of the programs for ELLs in Boston two years ago found them to be seriously lacking. See the Boston Globe's take on the situation in a story published last Friday. Back in April 2009, I blogged about a study that showed the dropout rate for ELLs in Boston's public schools increased significantly from 2003 to 2006.

Boston public school officials sent me a statement on Friday saying that the school system is making "significant investments" in students who are learning English and is committed to providing services to such students. The statement said that school district officials hope that Race to the Top funds will help the school system to accelerate student achievement. "Advocating for Boston not to receive Race to theTop funds puts future investments for all of our students at significant risk," it said.

A spokesman for the Education Department sent me an e-mail message saying that Secretary Duncan had received the request from Latino advocacy groups and that the Education Department's office for civil rights "will carefully review the request."

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