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Mass. Officials Strive to Improve Services for English-Learners

From guest blogger Kimberly Shannon

As Massachusetts education officials begin rolling out new training requirements for core-content teachers who work with English-language learners, other leaders in the state are moving ahead with Gov. Deval Patrick's plan to improve outcomes for ELLs in two dozen former industrial cities that have struggled economically.

His plan—called the Gateway Cities Education Agenda—includes up to $3 million in grants to support summer and after-school language enrichment academies for middle and high school students who are ELLs. The state is seeking proposals for the academies now. Patrick's plan also offers grants to establish early-career academies in the Gateway cities, as part of an effort to increase high school graduation rates and college-going.

At his education summit last year, Gov. Patrick made it clear that closing the achievement gap would be a top priority for him this term. He acknowledged that, in spite of Massachusetts' record as a leading education state, there are glaring gaps between the state's white students and its English-learners. He proposed the ELL and career academies as one way to address the problem in the cities, where the general populations range from 35,000 to 250,000, and where household income and educational attainment rates are below the state average.

Massachusetts has seen a 51 percent increase in ELLs since 2000. In that same period, public schools had to retool their instructional programs for ELLs after voters in 2002 approved an initiative that strictly prohibited the use of bilingual education. Since 2009, federal civil rights officials have had the state and some school districts, including Boston, in their sights, prompting the development of improvement plans that are meant to ensure that all ELLs are properly identified and are provided the language-acquisition services to which they are legally entitled. The state has adopted new English-language-development standards and assessments, and will soon launch its large-scale effort to provide intensive training for thousands of academic-content teachers with ELLs in their classrooms.

The ELL enrichment academies are slated to get started next spring, with after-school enrichment programs, Saturday programs, and/or spring break sessions. The summer academies will include at least four consecutive weeks of four full-day sessions a week. The sessions will provide assistance in learning English and in learning subject-matter content, and are intended to improve literacy skills, confidence in the classroom, and assessment scores.

The career academies are expected to operate by September of 2013. They are intended to provide applied learning opportunities, help bridge the gap between high school and career or college, and create internship and externship opportunities through a council of school and business leaders.

Both programs will be geared toward middle and high school students, and can be hosted by a variety of institutions, including schools, nonprofits, and community organizations.

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