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ELLs Not a Major Focus in Leading i3 Proposals

The Education Department has unveiled the 23 likely winners in Round 2 of its Investing in Innovation, or i3, competition, and judging from the project descriptions, there isn't much focusing directly on the needs of English-language learners.

Of the 23 finalists, 10 of them offered proposals that met the Department's competitive criteria for addressing "unique learning needs," which is the category that includes English learners and students with disabilities. And within that group of 10, I count only three that have any specific mention of ELLs in their project descriptions.

One of them is a biggie, though: the Old Dominion University Research Foundation, based in Norfolk, Va., which is poised to receive nearly $25 million to provide challenging math courses to high-need middle school students. There's just one line in the Old Dominion project summary that mentions ELLs and it states that math achievement will go up and close gaps for "limited-English-proficient students and students with disabilities."

Of course, that one line doesn't reveal anything about how the needs of ELLs would be particularly addressed. On the other hand, the Department hasn't made the full proposals available so we can't make a complete judgment. All we have to go on are the project summaries.

The two other finalists with mentions of ELLs in their project descriptions are the Fresno County Office of Education (no surprise there given the large population of Mexican immigrants in that part of California) and Temple University.

I know that many people would argue that a good number of these projects are focused on priorities such as turning around low-performing schools, which by definition would include large numbers of English learners in many school systems. But I'm surprised not to see more for the fastest growing subgroup of students in these proposals.

If i3 lives on to see a third round of funding, perhaps the Department might make the needs of ELLs—more than 5 million nationwide and growing— an "absolute" priority rather than a "competitive" one.

Below are the seven other finalists whose proposals purport to address the needs of English learners and/ or students with disabilities.

Boston Public Schools

Del Norte Unified School District

Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative

North Carolina New Schools Strategy

Success for All Foundation

Texas Tech University

University of Alaska

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