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NYC Charter Schools Are Short on ELLs

New York City's charter schools enroll a smaller proportion of English-language learners than are present in the city's school population, according to a study released by the National Center for the Privatization of Education at Columbia University's Teachers College.

The paper looked at enrollment in charter schools for 2006, 2007, and 2008. While ELLs were underrepresented in the city's charter schools, students who qualify for reduced-price lunches were overrepresented in those schools. Students who are eligible for free lunches were enrolled in about the same proportion as they are present in the city's school population.

The researchers for the study, who are from New York University even though the study is being publicized by Columbia University, found that a large group of the Big Apple's charter schools enroll very few English-language learners. And a very small group of charter schools, perhaps one to three, depending on the school year, have a large share of ELLs, the report says. One of the outliers that enrolls lots of ELLs is Family Life Academy Charter School, an elementary school with ELL enrollments that are more than 35 percent the proportion in the school population for each of the years studied. The researchers say that teachers and administrators in that school, which opened in 2001, understand the education of ELLs to be an important part of the school's mission.

The researchers say that the most likely reasons that New York City's charter schools are short on ELLs is that parents of such students lack knowledge about the schools' existence and charter schools' administrators may not seek out ELLs.

Because of the sanctions that can be imposed on schools if their students don't score well on standardized tests, the researchers write, "school administrators may be reluctant to serve students who tend to score lower on state exams, require more intensive resources, and may be more likely to put their schools at risk."

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