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Articles: ELL

0ne in four students under the age of six comes from an immigrant family in which at least one parent does not speak English, says Maki Park, early education policy analyst for the Migration Policy Institute (MPI).

With a vast number of new software and Web-based reading programs on the market, students of all ages and abilities can target specific reading skills, such as comprehension, fluency, phonemic awareness and vocabulary. In addition, access has changed greatly over the last couple of years. Students no longer need to be in a computer lab to use Web-based programs; they can use laptops or tablets as part of a one-to-one computing program or their own devices if their school has a bring-your-own-device policy.

Rebuilding relationships with parents is the central concern, says author Soo Hong, who cautions that achieving understanding between schools and parents “does not happen overnight.” Hong, who wrote A Cord of Three Strands about the Chicago immigrant parent program, suggests opening up school buildings to parents beyond traditional open house and back-to-school nights to allow them opportunities to help in classrooms.

Proliferating across the country at what seems lightning speed is a law that grants parents an unprecedented degree of power to intervene in the fate of underperforming schools. First adopted in California in January 2010 and spurred by the Parent Revolution group out of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), what’s become known as the “parent trigger” law says that when a majority of parents with children in schools designated “failing” under No Child Left Behind demand administrators be replaced or that the school reopen as a charter, the district must comply.

As the incoming New York City schools chancellor was gearing up to take office, a state senator suggested in December that Chancellor Cathie Black consider establishing an immigrant school in Queens to solve overcrowding in nearby Newtown High School, which is also on the state’s persistently lowest-achieving school list. “With immigrant English-language learners who would otherwise attend Newtown receiving the intensive language- development help they need in a different setting, Newtown could provide more individualized and direct services to students,” Sen.

"We are knowingly administering tests to children that we know cannot do well on them because they don't speak English," says Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), echoing the concerns of many administrators nationwide regarding assessment tests for English language learners (ELLs).

Amid all the national attention on Arizona these past few months, largely due to Senate Bill 1070 empowering police to take "reasonable" steps to verify the immigration status of criminal suspects, the state's K12 district administrators have been wrestling with a unique segregation issue, as well.

"Children with disabilities will only meet their potential if they have effective teachers," says John O'Connor, executive director for special services at DeKalb (Ga.) County School System, a metropolitan Atlanta school district in the second-largest county in the state.

Through an intense collaborative effort, O'Connor has helped reinvent instruction for special education students who, combined with ELLs, amount to about 17 percent of the total student population.


Au Contraire

As a proud Vermont chauvinist, I feel compelled to point out that, contrary to your assertion in your first story in the States of Debate series ("Lone Star," May 2010), three U.S. states have been sovereign nations — Hawaii, Texas and Vermont. Vermont was an independent, self-governed republic for a period of time immediately following the Revolutionary War, I believe from 1777 to 1791.

Kate Davie, Librarian Blue Mountain Union School, Wells River, Vt.

In districts with Hispanic populations, English language learning is a priority, particularly in the elementary grades, which many students enter still speaking Spanish as their primary language. In affiliation with the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), a private, non-profit organization focused on reducing poverty and discrimination and improving opportunity for Hispanic Americans, about 100 community-based charter schools serve districts like these across the United States.

The latest trend in the rapidly advancing and fiercely competitive interactive whiteboard market reflects the ever-increasing popularity and global appeal of this technology: support for multiple languages. A variety of manufacturers have recently added or expanded their language resources because of U.S. demand for teaching ELL students, the use of the devices in foreign language classes and strong sales in countries around the world.

Call it a case of "vertigo." Middle school media specialist Grace Poli was determined to find a way to use technology to help her ELL and special-needs students learn English more quickly. As she watched the Apple ad featuring the U2 song "Vertigo," something clicked.

"I thought, 'This will motivate kids,'" says Poli. After looking into the benefits of music and how audiobooks can help struggling readers, Poli approached her superintendent with a proposal for an after-school iPod program.

Schools and districts that serve a large number of English language learners (ELL s) have found it helpful to develop a comprehensive program that addresses the specific needs of the population they serve. But what about districts that experience a sudden influx of ELL students? In these places, no ELL program may be in place, and existing staff may not be trained or experienced in teaching students whose first language is not English.