Successful Strategies for English Language Learners: Districts Employ a Variety of Programs to Address Surging ELL Enrollment-And Dropout Rate

By Pascopella, Angela | District Administration, February 2011 | Go to article overview

Successful Strategies for English Language Learners: Districts Employ a Variety of Programs to Address Surging ELL Enrollment-And Dropout Rate


Pascopella, Angela, District Administration


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AS THE INCOMING NEW York City schools chancellor was gearing up to take office, state senator suggested in December that Chancellor Cathie Black consider establishing an immigrant school in Queens to solve overcrowding in nearby Newtown High School, which is also on the state's persistently lowest-achieving school list.

"With immigrant English-language learners who would otherwise attend Newtown receiving the intensive language-development help they need in a different setting, Newtown could provide more individualized and direct services to students," Sen. Jose Peralta stated in a letter to the Chancellor.

While Black did not immediately respond, the plea shines light on the current situation many school district leaders are facing: a growing number of ELLs and how to ensure they succeed and graduate. Between 1979 and 2008, the number of school-age children (ages 5-17) in the United States who spoke a language other than English at home increased from 3.8 to 10.9 million, or from 9 to 21 percent of the population in this age range, according to the latest figures from the National Center on Education Statistics (NCES).

The NCES also reveals that the Hispanic dropout rate is almost twice that of black students and three times that of white students. In 2008, 18 percent of dropouts were Hispanic, while 10 percent were black and 5 percent were white. "We're not geared to educate every child, but to educate the best and the brightest," says Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators and a Cuban-American.

Perhaps one of the greatest examples of inequity lies in a joint investigation of the Department of Justice and the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights that revealed last October that Boston Public Schools had failed to properly identify and adequately serve thousands of ELLs since 2003 as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A settlement agreement will ensure that ELLs in Boston schools will no longer be denied language support services, and more than 4,000 students who were inappropriately characterized as having "opted out" of ELL services will have ELL services made available to them. In addition, 4,300 students who were improperly identified as non-ELL students will be offered ELL services.

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As a result, the federal government is pushing for more reform. Last September, the Department of Education released a new video produced especially for Spanish-speaking families that shows how going to college is more attainable and more affordable than ever. And last October, President Obama signed an order renewing the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. It renewed the government's strong financial support for the critical role Hispanics play in the overall prosperity of the nation and highlights the administration's commitment to expanding education opportunities and improving education outcomes for all students.

Carlos Garcia, past president of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS) and superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, adds that the future of ELLs' success depends on strong district and community leaders who are willing to push for the best programs to ensure ELLs graduate from high school and have a bright future. Garcia and Augie Orci, ALAS executive director, point to several school districts, including Dallas (Texas) Independent School District, Kent (Wash.) School District, Tucson (Ariz.) Unified School District, San Francisco Unified School District and Washington County (Md.) Public Schools, that have successful ELL programs, some of which have developed over time. "These may not be the only school districts that are doing well with ELL students, but they are districts that have strategically planned to address the needs of ELL students," says Garcia. …

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