Years after concerns were first raised about how the Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut were instructing English Language Learners, the district has entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, pledging to make a number of changes to address the needs of the population.
The Center for Children’s Advocacy first filed a complaint with the OCR in April 2007. The student population includes many Spanish-speaking students, in addition to refugees from various countries.
The February 2013 agreement includes ensuring that ELL students receive at least 45-60 minutes a day of ESL instruction from an ESL-certified teacher (or bilingual) and that ELL students receive support in learning core content. It also required the district to actively recruit qualified ESL- and bilingual-certified staff, and offer professional development on ELL instruction to general education teachers.
In addition, when administrators meet to review school performance data they also will review ELL data, including examining the students’ academic progress and graduation rates. In addition, the district will make interpreting services available to parents–but agreed to avoid using students as interpreters.
The district also must provide certain information to the Office of Civil Rights by October 2013, including the numbers and types of ELL staff at each school, a description of professional development opportunities, and a copy of its plan for communication with non-English speaking parents.
By December 2013, the district must provide information including a list of all ELL students and their proficiency levels, the schedules of ELL teachers, and a description of support services in core content for ELL students.
According to the Learning the Language blog, attorney Stacey Violante Cote with the Center for Children’s Advocacy said that the group became concerned about a lack of services for ELL and immigrant students.
“That’s why this agreement with OCR is so necessary,” she said. “We need something that is going to outlast any administrative turnover or changes in the district’s reform agenda.”
Meanwhile, the blog reported that Mary Beth Russo, the school system’s lead facilitator for ELL services, said the district began implementing changes far before the agreement was signed. Those changes included offering school choice to ELLs. Hartford also began publishing a guide providing information about ELLs at every school, including their academic performance and the staff working with the population.
ELL students face considerable hurdles to overcome. According to the Hartford Courant, only 49% of ELL students in the district graduated in four years in 2010, compared with 62% of non-ELLs.