What Type of Research Is Needed On ELLs?

The U.S. Department of Education is requesting proposals for research studies that would address how to better meet the needs of students who are English Language learners.

In an item appearing in the Federal Register, the department indicates interest in instructional approaches, assessments and training for educators. Written submissions are due by October 9.

The request also seeks studies that could improve meeting the needs of teachers and administrators who work with ELLs.

“The Department anticipates making use of this information to inform the development of our evaluation and research agenda in the coming years and to guide future evaluation and research studies addressing the needs of [ELLs],” the listing reads.

Additionally, the department is interested in ELLs who fall into categories including students with disabilities, middle and high school students and immigrant students with limited formal education.

Other topics of interest include using technology in instructing ELLs, using academic language to promote language acquisition and data collection strategies.

Another earlier announcement in the Federal Register requested guidance on how to improve technical services related to ELLs for educators and state officials.

Learning the Language blogger Lesli Maxwell pointed out that the requests have come amidst concerns that the education department has not addressed the ELL population’s needs.

In particular, some educators are concerned that the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition (NCELA), did not provide particularly current and useful information on how to help ELLs.

Related Links:

– “Request for Information to Inform the Title III Evaluation and Research Studies Agenda,” Federal Register.

– “English-Learner Research: Ed Dept. Looking for Guidance,” Learning the Language Blog, Education Week.

– “Ed. Dept. Seeks Feedback on Supporting English-Learners,” Learning the Language Blog, Education Week.

– National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition (NCELA)

Hartford, Conn., Schools Reach Agreement On ELLs

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.

Related Links:

– “Hartford Schools, Civil Rights Officials Agree on Services for ELLs,” Learning the Language Blog/Education Week. April 9. 

– “After Federal Probe, Hartford Schools Agree to Improve Services for ‘English Language Learners,'” The Hartford Courant.

– Hartford Board of Education Resolution Agreement

Activists Protest Philadelphia School Closings

Plans to close 37 Philadelphia schools have set off an emotional firestorm and allegations of discrimination.

This week, the U.S. Department of Education confirmed that it was looking into complaints that school closings in Philadelphia, Detroit and Newark discriminate against Latino and black students, the New York Times reported. Officials are also looking into the impact on students with disabilities. About 19 percent of the school district’s students are Latino and 55 percent are black.

The Philadelphia plan aims to rid the system of a $1.1 billion deficit and cut the number of underused and low-performing schools. Final approval on the closures is scheduled for March.

The situation is complicated. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that there are about 53,000 empty seats in schools in the city, most heavily in the north and west part of the city. Meanwhile, the schools with greater numbers of white students are more likely to be at or over capacity.

If the activists are able to win over the U.S. Department of Education, that would be a big change. The Huffington Post reports that the Office of Civil Rights has investigated 27 school closings between October 2010 and January 2013, but found no violations in any of the cases. The office has 33 open cases in 22 states.

How much do school closings impact children’s education? If your district is considering closing schools, what are the demographics of that campus versus the entire district?

Related Links:

– “Education Dept. to Hear School Closing Complaints,” The New York Times. 

– “City school closings target vulnerable students, critics say,” The Philadelphia Inquirer.

– “School Closures Violate Civil Rights, Protestors Tell Arne Duncan,” The Huffington Post. 

ELL Programs Win Federal i3 Innovation Grants

Several programs that assist English-language learners have won funding through the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation grant competition.

A total of 20 winners are sharing $150 million. The i3 competition was a part of the 2009 stimulus package. The program awards local school districts, non profit organizations that partner with schools and consortiums of schools. The program seeks to award grant money to applicants that have a record of achieving gains in student achievement.

Education Week’s Learning the Language blog reported on the news, and highlighted some of the winner that are helping ELL students:

– Texas A&M University won up to $15 million to focus on developing student literacy interventions for kindergarten through third grade Spanish-speaking ELLs. The university is partnering with 25 Texas school districts.

– Jobs for the Future won up to $15 million to implement Early College High School in three school districts with substantial ELL populations–two in South Texas and one in Colorado.

– West Ed won up to $15 million to design a math program to be used to teach children in the early grades. A parent program in Spanish adn English will also be offered to parents. Many of the California school districts working on the project have a large ELL population.

– The Intercultural Development Research Association won up to $3 million to grow its PTA Comunitario program, which emphasizes the importance of college completion for ELLs . The program operates in Texas schools.

– The California Association of Bilingual Education won a grant to create a parent-engagement program targeting Spanish-speaking parents in four California school districts.

– The California League of Middle Schools will follow a group of ELLs from the sixth grade through the 10th grade, while focusing on student and parent engagement.

Related Links:

– “ELL-focused Projects are Big Winners in i3 Competition.” Learning the Language blog. Education Week. 

– Investing in Innovation Fund. 

Study: 23 Percent of Undergraduates Are Immigrants or Have an Immigrant Parent

A new analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that in 2008, about 23 percent of  the country’s 22.3 million undergraduate college students were immigrants or had at least one immigrant parent. The vast majority of those students are Asian and Latino.

About 10 percent of the college students were immigrants, and 13 percent were second generation. Their enrollment rates varied considerably between states, with the largest populations in California, New York and Texas.

Latino students made up the largest ethnic group who were second-generation college students, representing 41 percent of students in that category. In contrast, Asian students made up the largest group of immigrant students at 30 percent of that pool.

Overall, about 66 percent of all Latino college students  and 90 percent of Asian college students are immigrants or second-generation Americans, compared with 10 percent of white Americans. Latinos are more likely than Asians to be second-generation, with about 45 percent of Latino undergraduates being second-generation Americans. About 21 percent of Latino undergraduates are immigrants, compared with 55 percent of Asian undergraduates.

The immigrant Asian and Latino students were more likely to be 24 and older, while the majority of second-generation students were 23 or younger. The Asian and Latino students in the two groups were also more likely to come from low-income backgrounds than the overall rate among undergraduates.

Latino and Asian students differed significantly in their parents’ backgrounds and college choices.

Hispanic immigrant and second-generation students were much more likely to have parents who did not attend college than Asian students, with 55 and 54 percent of their parents having not attended college.

They also were much more likely to attend community colleges than all undergraduates. Of the immigrant students, 54 percent attended community college, compared with 51 percent of the second-generation students, 44 percent of all undergraduates and 40 percent of Asian second-generation students. In addition, about 12 percent of the Latino immigrant and second generation students were also enrolled in for-profit colleges, a higher rate than the U.S. student average. The Latino students were also more likely not to  be full-time students. These characteristics are important to note because these types of students (for-profit and part-time) are less likely to graduate or move on to a bachelor’s degree.

The Latino students also had other factors that made them at-risk of not completing. Those Hispanic immigrant or second -generation students under the age of 30 took fewer advanced math courses in high school, such as precalculus and calculus and also took more remedial courses in college.

I’ve blogged before about the big recent push to enroll more Latino students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs). The data show that  about 14 percent of Latino  immigrant and second-generation students had STEM-related majors, compared with 25 percent of Asian immigrant and second-generation students. Latinos were more likely to enroll in general studies, social sciences or education than the Asian students.

The researchers clarified that they don’t sort the data by the age of the immigrant students when they entered the United States or the students’ immigration statuses. They also excluded students reporting that they or their parents were from Puerto Rico.

Related Links:

– “New Americans in Postsecondary Education: A Profile of Immigrant and Second-Generation American Undergraduates.” U.S. Department of Education and National Center for Education Statistics.

– National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.

– National Center for Education Statistics.

Report: Hispanic and Black Students Account for Majority of School Arrests

A new report from the U.S. Department of Education found that almost three-quarters of students involved in arrests or other incidents handled by police are Latino or black, The Washington Post reports. “The sad fact is that minority students across America face much harsher discipline than non-minorities, even in the same school,” the paper quoted Education Secretary Arne Duncan as saying.

Why? Is punishment more severe for Hispanic and black students than white students for the same behavior? Or are Hispanic and black students committing more infractions than white students?

Duncan added that the department doesn’t allege “overt discrimination” in all of the cases. Some civil rights groups blame the “zero tolerance” behavior policies in place at many schools. The study noted that 29 percent of referrals to police were Hispanic and 37 percent of students arrested were Hispanic. The data were from 2009-10 and included a sample of 72,000 schools.

Do your schools have a racial gap in discipline and, if so, what are they doing to address it? In several districts I’ve covered, administrators have emphasized to teachers that they should keep misbehaving students in the classroom as much as possible and deal with the issues there instead of referring them to the principal’s office or an alternative school. In some cases, teachers–once told about racial inequalities–complained that they felt accused of racism if they referred minority students for discipline issues.

Meanwhile, The Post cites several civil rights groups who point the finger at schools. Raul Gonzalez, legislative director at the National Council of La Raza, said removing children from classrooms puts them in the pipeline toward prison and argued that less severe discipline should be meted out. “We’ve lost control of all judgment here, and it’s almost always a black kid or Hispanic kid” affected, Gonzalez told the Post.

You can find resources on the study here.