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Another Civil Rights Probe of ELL Services in Massachusetts

The U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights has opened a new investigation related to English-language learners, this time looking into whether the state department of education in Massachusetts has failed to enforce laws intended to provide better services for ELLs in Boston charter schools.

This probe comes on the heels of several others that OCR has recently conducted looking into the education of English-language learners, including an investigation in the Los Angeles Unified School District that led to the school system's agreement to overhaul its ELL program. Federal civil rights authorities have found numerous problems with the education of ELLs in Massaschusetts in the last year. They reached a settlement with the Boston district last year to address shortcomings in its ELL programs, and earlier this year, found that there was a statewide shortage of teachers adequately trained to teach academic content to English-language learners.

Federal civil rights officials have opened at least 16 investigations into services for English-language learners since President Obama took office in 2009.

OCR opened the new investigation last week after Multicultural Education, Training & Advocacy (META) Inc., a civil rights group based in Somerville, Mass., filed a complaint. META's lawyers contend that the state department of education has a history of approving applicants for Boston-based charter schools that enroll few, if any, English-language learners in a city where the public school enrollment is about 30 percent ELLs. Specifically, META says that the education department is not enforcing a new state law meant to address the lack of adequate services for ELLs in Boston charter schools.

Of course, it's not a foregone conclusion that OCR will find merit to META's complaint. But the state's batting average so far on these issues has not been stellar.


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