LA, NYC Schools Fall Short in ELL Programs

The quandary of how best to teach English Language Learners continues to make headlines from one coast to another. This week, both the Los Angeles Unified School District and the New York City school district — the country’s two largest systems — were taken to task for failing to meet the needs of students learning English.

In Los Angeles, school officials agreed to make major changes in the way English Language Learners are taught. The agreement is part of a settlement in the Obama administration’s first Department of Education civil rights investigation. ELL’s make up almost one-third — or 195,000 — of the LAUSD student body, the biggest number of  any district in the country.

According to this story in the L.A. Times, the settlement will require school officials to:

“focus on the academic progress of students judged to have adequately learned English. Many of these students subsequently flounder academically. The district will also concentrate efforts on students who have reached high school without mastering the English skills necessary to enroll in a college-preparatory curriculum and who may be at risk of dropping out.”

In New York City, state officials accused the city school system of failing to adequately serve ELL’s and threatened school officials with sanctions if they did not improve services.  In 2010, only 7 percent of ELL students graduated on time, only 12 percent of lower grad ELL’s were proficient in English and 35 percent were proficient in math, state officials said.

The state also found that ELL’s were not getting tested in a timely manner, not receiving services to which they were entitled, and parents were not being given the choice of bilingual or English-only instruction for their children.

The state first directed city officials to improve services more than a year ago, but an improvement plan was only released this week, according to this New York Times story.

Under the plan, the city promises to start new bilingual programs, improve monitoring, hire more bilingual teachers and provide more training.

These issues are not limited just to Los Angeles and New York City. School districts across the country are facing an increase in the number of children who need help learning English. Yet, many districts fall short of the mission, either due to budget constraints, poor oversight, outdated policies, etc.

As this Washington Post item points out, the number of ELL’s in public school has soared 51 percent over the last decade, to about5.3 million in 2008-09.

Keeping an eye on ELL services and programs offered by school district should be at the top of every education reporter’s story list. Parent groups and advocacy groups are good sources of information. Local colleges — which are tasked with offering remedial classes to students who graduate from high school without basic skills — can also give you a good sense of whether schools are falling short.

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