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ELLs Can Integrate Effectively, Reports Emphasize

By guest blogger Alexandra Rice

At the Save Our Schools conference and march that took place in Washington last week and over the weekend, teachers rallied to reclaim the public schools in an effort, they said, to bring equal education to all students. A goal of some of the protestors was to turn back the clock on the rapidly expanding charter school movement; they argued that the alternative-style schools take funding away from public schools and further widen achievement gaps.

A report recently released by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, by contrast, puts forth the idea that the expansion of charter schools is good for educational equality. But it urges charter authorizers to do more to ensure that English-language learners have equal access to charter schools and that the schools serve them well. In an effort to educate charter authorizers on the unique characteristics of ELLs, the report's author gives a brief description of the diverse group, citing statistics such as that 10 percent of K-12 students nationwide are English-language learners, and 16.5 percent of charter students are ELLs. The report also highlights laws and regulations pertaining to ELLs that charter personnel should be aware of and it discusses features of effective schools serving ELLs that the author states can be successfully replicated.

Some of those features include implementing comprehensive English-language- development programs that align with academic development, increasing capacity to serve ELLs, providing fair and reliable assessments, and, notably, making preschool education more available.

The last of these features of effective schools—providing high-quality and accessible preschool education—is getting a whole lot more attention lately with the Obama administration's push for expanded early-learning opportunities in the latest round of Race to the Top. Latino children, many of whom are ELLs, are underrepresented in preschool programs.

How Latino children and ELLs can better be educated in preschools is now being studied more closely as well. One example of this is a case study published earlier this summer by the Foundation for Child Development on effectively educating ELLs in the pre-K through 3rd grade years. In the study, the researchers explore how Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland is a district with an effective model for closing the achievement gap between ELLs and fluent English speakers.

The district's success, the report states, is no accident. By devising and implementing specific strategies for working with ELLs, the district has been able to handle an influx of non-native English speakers while maintaining its reputation of high academic achievement. Since 1998 the number of ELLs in Montgomery County has more than doubled. To paint a picture: 129 different languages are spoken among students enrolled in the county's schools this year (62 percent of those students speak Spanish).

Of the "six strategies for success" pointed out in the case study, two are particularly noteworthy:

- Build a culture of collaboration in which staff from different departments work together to meet the needs of ELL students and,

- Offer targeted support services and strong partnerships that ensure families of ELL students are welcomed as full members of the educational community and that district decisions reflect the voices of ethnically and linguistically diverse parents.

The full report, with all six strategies, can be accessed here.


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