On this Friday, April 13, the Task Force on English Language Learners (ELL) at the State Legislature will conclude its work. Over the past two months, the task force invited experts in the field and practitioners all over Connecticut to provide testimony on their work with ELL students. Amidst all the discussion and energy focused on high-profile legislation this session, the committee did an outstanding job of focusing on this sometimes overlooked population of Connecticut students.
I had the privilege of representing both Connecticut Voices for Children and the Sheff Movement on the committee. In our letter to the committee, we seconded the task force’s suggestions related to standardized testing, staff development, dual-language programs, and collecting information for ELL students. Based on our 2010 ELL report and recent research, we made five recommendations. (The first four are in support of the task force’s suggestions and the fifth is a new, additional recommendation)
One major concern we have is the limited participation of ELL students in elective programs such as interdistrict magnet and charter schools. While these schools have different purposes, they are legally obligated to be open to all students in their designated region. With a few exceptions such as Amistad Academy (charter) and the Dual Language Arts Academy (magnet), state data demonstrate that the proportion of ELL students in magnet and charter schools is much lower in these elective programs when compared to their home districts.
There may be a number of reasons why charter and magnet schools may not serve similar populations of ELL students when their populations are compared to their home districts. These reasons may include language barriers, transportation issues, the choice/lottery systems, lack of support or resources for ELL students, the grade configuration of the school (i.e. pre-k programs which do not identify ELL students), and the location of the magnet or charter schools in particular neighborhoods.
Given the growth in the state’s proportion of ELL students (from 3.7% in 2001-02 to 5.5% in 2010-11), these students and their families are an increasingly important group that the state must consider and work with when it proposes educational policies, particularly policies that encourage elective programs that may have barriers to access.