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Brief: Policymakers Must Promote Parental Involvement for English-Learners

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A new brief released today urges policymakers to adopt a series of measures that would welcome and involve the parents of English-language learners in U.S. schools to improve the achievement of those students.

Written by William Mathis, managing director of the National Education Policy Center, the brief summarizes current findings in education research as the basis for its arguments. The center, whose mission is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions, is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

Over the last 20 years, the enrollment of English-language learners (ELL) in U.S. schools has more than doubled—from 2 million in 1989 to 5.3 million in 2009, with Latino parents representing 76.1 percent of English-language learners. Most of these students are native born.

"The data show we deny these children equitable opportunities to learn to the detriment of them and their communities, and to the detriment of our larger societal health," according to a release about the brief.

Mathis built upon an earlier NEPC policy brief, "Promoting ELL Parental Involvement: Challenges in Contested Times," for his work. In that earlier brief, Beatriz Arias and Milagros Morillo-Campbell outline a series of best practices for schools "to establish two-way communication with ELL families and to involve those families in the life of the school, in community collaboration, in school governance, and in their children's schoolwork," according to NEPC's release.

Among his 15 recommendations for districts and schools, Mathis writes that they should:

  • Provide home-school coordinators fluent in the children's language;

  • Incorporate community cultural events and celebrations into school activities;

  • Provide translators for all key parent meetings;

  • Publish bi-lingual or multi-lingual newsletters;

  • Provide parents with avenues to learn;

  • Include families in school governance; and,

  • Collaborate with community organizations.

For state policymakers, Mathis offers these recommendations:

  • Review adequacy studies and identify financial inequities in serving ELL learners, turning them into legislation and budget allocations to address inequalities;

  • Review and revise state laws, rules and regulations to ensure that school evaluation frameworks systematically and specifically evaluate the instructional capacity of schools with a high concentration of ELL students; and,

  • Provide adequate training that embraces and builds upon students' native and family culture.

The brief is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Read the full brief on the NEPC website.

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