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English-Learners Need More Philanthrophic Investment, Report Says

English-learners are the fastest-growing subgroup of students in public schools and will likely be so for the next decade, but education philanthropy dollars targeted toward the unique needs of these students haven't kept pace, a new report says.

The Portland, Ore.-based Grantmakers for Education, a membership organization for public and private education-related philanthropies, has just published an analysis of the current state of grantmaking meant to improve educational outcomes for English-learners. The main finding: The level of investment in ELLs is "relatively small" and "small in comparison to the magnitude of this population and the depth of educational need."

And even among the funders who do invest in English-learners, the majority of the grants they count as being for ELLs are not exclusively for such needs. Nearly all of the grants are supporting broader education programs or strategies that include ELLs, along with immigrant students, for example, or low-income children.

Grantmakers for Education surveyed more than 130 philanthropic organizations that indicated they provide grants for English-learners or immigrant students, and did follow-up telephone interviews with about two dozen of those survey respondents to glean more information about their investments in ELLs.

The analysis goes on to outline lessons funders must understand to invest more strategically in programs and services for English-learners. Chief among them is that focusing on Latino communities, immigrant communities, or low-income communities will not adequately address the needs of English-learners. ELLs need specific, targeted investment.

Four case studies highlighting effective and targeted investments in English-learners—three of them focused on the early years—are also included in the analysis. One of them is the Sobrato Family Foundation, in California, which has invested in an instructional approach in a handful of schools in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties that focuses on the development of the literacy and language skills of young ELLs in Spanish and English so that they get on track to become bilingual and biliterate early on, and, by fourth grade, close the gap in academic achievement between them and their native English-speaking peers. One school I visited last year in San Jose, Gardner Academy, was in its third year of implementation and was showing early, promising results.

The report concludes with a call for more, and smarter, investments in English-learners.

"Together, the growing numbers of ELLs, the persistent achievement gaps and barriers to access, and an increasingly high set of stakes add up to a seminal moment for people and institutions investing in school reform and the education of English-learners," the report says.

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