Setting a New Federal Agenda on English Learner Education

With the beginning of a new presidential administration earlier this year, some language activists and thinkers believe 2021 could be a pivotal year for education policy surrounding English learners (ELs). New America, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused on innovation in public policy, recently published its own agenda for increasing the federal government’s provisions for ELs.
“Historically, ELs have been sidelined in federal education policy discussions, which has resulted in an inconsistent approach to supporting their language development and academic achievement,” the report reads. “This paper takes stock of key areas in need of improvement in federal policy impacting ELs and dual language learners (DLLs), including data and accountability, assessment, teacher preparation and professional learning, and funding.”
In the report, the organization recommends wide-reaching solutions that would improve data collection and assessment of EL students’ proficiency in English, so that the government could better account for the unique needs of the EL population attending the nation’s public schools. According to the report, the following policy recommendations could improve EL students’ access to education services and lead to better learning outcomes for ELs in the country’s education system:
Build on the data collection efforts imposed in the No Child Left Behind Act and the Every Student Succeeds Act by collecting and releasing data to the public more frequently.Collect and report data on the types of programs ELs and DLLs in preschool to 12th grade have access to/ are enrolled in through Civil Rights Data Collection, general school and district reports, as well as their English learner reports.Improve transparency and accountability for the heterogeneity of the EL population in data collection by accounting for the intersectional identities of many ELs.Increase state, district and school accountability for former ELs by expanding the number of years EL progress toward proficiency in English is monitored.Continue improving upon assessment of ELs by developing alternative tools that provide an understanding of their progress, as well as supporting the development of native language assessment.In order to achieve these goals, the federal government will need to increase funding and guidance for state and local school districts. Although the EL population has increased since 2008, the report states that Title III funding—which is the only federal funding currently set aside for EL programs—has remained about the same. New America recommends increasing Title III funding to $2.5 billion as well as looking into how Title I funding could be used to serve ELs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly exacerbated the need for improved EL education services. The report also notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on the learning outcomes of ELs, with school districts across the nation reporting lower attendance rates and more failing grades among EL students.
“The pandemic has disrupted the education of millions of students, with ELs and their families disproportionately exposed to the risk of being left behind. Because we have a history of exclusionary and deficit-based policies, we need to do more to ensure these students have access to equitable educational opportunities,” the report reads.


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