Forum: Why Educating English Language Learners Means Success for Everyone

By Levine, Thomas | New Haven Register (New Haven, CT), August 7, 2015 | Go to article overview

Forum: Why Educating English Language Learners Means Success for Everyone


Levine, Thomas, New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)


As Congress crafts an updated Elementary and Secondary Education Act, President Barack Obama has set a goal for our nation: to prepare all students for college and a career. Achieving such a goal will remain impossible unless we improve our approach to educating English language learners.

By the year 2030, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that 40 percent of all public schoolchildren will speak a language other than English at home. If current trends hold, roughly half of these students will not succeed in school unless they receive help mastering English.

The sooner we can equip schoolteachers with techniques proven to help these English learners flourish in the classroom, the sooner we could expect to see these students advancing cultural, economic, and social progress. The consequences for not doing so are severe. An entire generation of students could end up underprepared for work as well as higher education, at tremendous cost to themselves and our society. If we do nothing, many will continue to drop out of high school at a rate three times higher than other students. In 2005, wages for high school dropouts were one-third of the wages for those with bachelor's degrees. And it is not just our tax coffers, employers, and retirement accounts that suffer when our workforce is underprepared. High school dropouts, studies show, are less likely to vote, to give blood, and to participate in volunteer activities.

The U.S. Department of Education has issued a blueprint for a revised education law, which calls for helping English learners learn rigorous content. This welcome attention to English learners, however, will become hollow rhetoric if the federal government does not fund significant professional development for teachers. A majority of teachers today report that they do not feel prepared to work with English learners, and most teachers in fact have limited or no training regarding the unique challenges and opportunities that accompany teaching English learners.

What is not lacking, however, are strategies proven to help English learners succeed. The Sheltered Instructional Observational Protocol (SIOP), for instance, is one set of research-supported strategies used by school districts throughout the country. …

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