ESL Programs and LEP Students: A Comparison of Public and Private Schools along the Wasatch Front

By Roberts, Tamee; Brunner, Jeremy D. et al. | Multicultural Education, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

ESL Programs and LEP Students: A Comparison of Public and Private Schools along the Wasatch Front


Roberts, Tamee, Brunner, Jeremy D., Bills, Shawn D., Multicultural Education


Introduction

For nearly forty years under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), public schools have been required to implement English as a Second Language (ESL) programs in any school where Limited English Proficient (LEP) students are enrolled. As of 2001, federal mandates were made even more specific under the No Child Left Behind Act's (NCLB) Title III, declaring that educators are:

to help ensure that children who are limited English proficient, including immigrant children and youth, attain English proficiency, develop high levels of academic attainment in English, and meet the same challenging State academic content and student academic achievement standards as all children are expected to meet. (NCLB, Title III, Part A)

In the state of Utah, we questioned how effective ESL programs were being administered to Utah's LEP students.

Public schools are still under mandate to implement ESL programs, but the effectiveness of these programs remains to be measured as schools are given power to implement the NCLB policy as individual circumstances dictate. The number of LEP students enrolled in Wasatch Front schools each year continues to rise. In the last ten years, for example, the number of LEP students in the Alpine School District increased by 122% (Penny Weatherly, Alpine School District's ESL Coordinator, 2003). The efficacy of ESL programs is of greater necessity than ever before. Is the private school arena a viable resource to rely upon in assisting with the ESL education of these Utah youth?

Our hypothesis was that public schools were more effective in meeting the educational needs of LEP students than private schools. Public schools risk losing federal funding if they have LEP students and do not implement ESL programs. Also, public school teachers are given a pay raise incentive to earn an ESL Endorsement to aid in LEP students' academic progress. We were curious to discover whether or not private schools had any ESL programs already implemented, and if not, if these private institutions would be willing to implement ESL programs if federal funding was made available.

Literature Review

There is minimal research comparing the effectiveness of private and public school ESL programs. The research that was found seemed to show that although annually, the number of minority students in the United States is growing, overall, ESL programs are not being effectively administered in public schools. Thomas and Collier (1997) found:

In 1988, 70 percent of U.S. school-age children were of Euro-American, non-Hispanic background. But by the year 2020, U.S. demographic projections predict that at least 50 percent of school-age children will be of non-Euro-American background (Berliner & Biddle, 1995). By the year 2030, language minority students (approximately 40 percent), along with African-American students (approximately 12-15 percent), will be the majority in U.S. schools. By the year 2050, the total U.S. population will have doubled from its present levels, with approximately one-third of the increase attributed to immigration. (Branigin, 1996, p. 12)

Another study found that:

About one-third of public schools with LEP student enrollments provide both ESL and bilingual education programs, and 71 percent of all LEP students attend these schools. Thirteen percent of schools (4,832) enrolling LEP students have neither ESL nor bilingual programs, and 3 percent of all LEP students (59,373) attend these schools. (NCES, 1997, p. vii)

With minorities, more specifically LEP students, entering the American public school system, effective policies regarding ESL programs in public education must be implemented in order to help these masses of children succeed in American society. Thomas and Collier stated:

But local and state decision-makers have had little or no guidance and have, by necessity, made instructional program decisions based on their professional intuition and their personal experience, frequently in response to highly politicized input from special interest groups of all sorts of persuasions. …

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