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Making the Case for a Focus on Early Learning for ELLs

Forty percent of English-language learners are between the ages of 3 and 8, and an achievement gap already exists between ELLs and native speakers of English upon entering kindergarten, so educators should focus more on the early learning of ELLs, argues an "action brief" from the Foundation for Child Development.

The New York-based Foundation for Child Development is a private philanthropy that aims to improve the well-being of disadvantaged children.

The brief argues that the nation needs to greatly improve education for ELLs in prekindergarten through 3rd grade, noting that such an approach would "reach the largest subset of English-learners." It says that ELLs should have high-quality programs starting at age 3 that are part of an aligned American education system.

The brief spells out a number of challenges for boosting achievement of ELLs in the country, such as a shortage of teachers prepared to instruct such students and a lack of monitoring for such students after they are no longer ELLs (it says they should be monitored through grade 12).

Interesting, the brief also contends that a lack of consistency between states in their achievement standards for such students and their criteria for when students should stop receiving special services to learn English undermines accountability under the No Child Left Behind Act.

It seems, then, that the Foundation for Child Development would support the federal government's recent push for more uniformity among states in the definitions used for ELLs and the criteria for them to stop receiving special language services.

As I reported in an article for Education Week published this week, the U.S. Department of Education has announced it plans to pay for new English-language-proficiency tests aligned with the common-core academic standards. The proposal says that any consortium of states applying for the grants would be required to have at least 15 states as members. All of those states would have to have agreed on a common definition for ELLs and common criteria for students to move out of that category.

If you are opposed to how federal officials are pushing for more consistency between states on ELL issues, I suggest that you let them know as part of the comment process for the proposed grant priorities. If you think more uniformity is a good idea, let them know that as well. The deadline for comment is Feb. 7.

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