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ESEA: What Is (and Isn't) in It for English-Language Learners

Scholars and advocates of English-language learners have been poring over the Harkin/Enzi proposal for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to understand just how the nation's large and growing population of English-language learners would be served by the measure that passed out of the Senate education committee last week.

And the verdict is not great. We've already heard about the concerns from civil rights groups such as the National Council of La Raza and Education Trust around the measure's dilution of hard accountability targets for subgroups of students, including ELLs. The absence of those performance targets remain as the chief concern, but worries over the bill's impact on ELLs don't stop there.

A group of researchers called the Working Group on ELL Policy wrote a letter today to Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Mike Enzi (R-Wy.) that outlines concerns about the inequitable distribution of highly effective teachers for ELLs, as well as the bill's lack of requirements around reporting the long-term performance of students who have exited ELL status and services.

The group does highlight a provision in the bill that it likes: a requirement that states align their English-language-proficiency standards with content-area standards.

"That's a real improvement," Kenji Hakuta, a Stanford professor and a member of the working group, told me in a phone conversation. "Sharpening the alignment of language proficiency with content is really, really important."

Other folks I talked to also pointed to other pieces of the measure, especially some smaller revisions or additions to Title III that will be beneficial to English-language learners. One addition is the reinstatement of a fellowship program (which disappeared when No Child Left Behind was enacted in 2001) to develop teachers, administrators and other practitioners to work with ELLs. Reviving that program, supporters said, would be key to helping develop capacity in the field, which is starting to see a wave of retirements, and to deepen the bench of experts as the ELL population grows across the nation. Another addition to Title III is the establishment of a commission of experts to advise federal policymakers on assessments for ELLs.

There's much more to parse, which I'll leave to another blog post. In the meantime, I encourage all of you to jump in and discuss how you think ELLs have fared in the latest ESEA reauthorization proposal.

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