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New ELL Parents Need More

A hope to train new immigrants to better meet their children’s needs.

Parents who are newly arrived in the United States need family engagement programs more than anyone, say activists on their behalf, who are not certain the Blueprint for Reform put forth by the Obama administration accounts for those concerns adequately.

No Child Left Behind contains language regarding the rights and responsibilities of parents of English language learners, but districts don’t always follow through with their end of the bargain, says Josef Lukan, policy analyst with the Education and Children’s Policy Project at the National Council of La Raza. “We were really hoping that the Blueprint would provide a little more information in terms of how to improve the parent involvement provisions and make sure that parents are able to use those resources,” Lukan says. “There’s nothing specific that would give us a hint that this is going to be a major focus.”

It needs to be, especially given how quickly the ELL population is growing, says Carlos Garcia, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District and president of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents. ELL families often have language barriers and cultural barriers.

“What I would love to see there is monies put in to actually train parents on how they can work with their kids and be better advocates for their kids,” he says. “If we can do that with African-Americans and Latinos, and get them as involved as most of the white parents are, it would help student achievement. People don’t know how to navigate the system. Affluent people, more privileged people, they know how.”

In tough budgetary times, such monies are often the first things cut, Garcia says. “How else are you going to build the capacity for parents and communities?” he asks. “It’s a very small investment that’s very worthwhile.”

He figures Title I is the most logical place to find additional money but would hate to see it just shifted from, for example, special education. “Government has a tendency to fix a problem by creating a new one,” Garcia says. “Be careful what you ask for.”

He’s hesitant to say how much more should be spent or where and how parents should be trained. “It’s up to a community to make that decision,” he says. “Different communities need different types of training.”