March 2015 Newsletter: Serving English Language Learners and Families

Serving English Language Learners and Families

English Learner (EL) students are the fastest-growing demographic group among school children in the United States, with the number of ELs in K-12 public schools increasing by about 4.7 percent from 2011-12 to 2012-131. Rapid growth has occurred in states which previously had comparatively small EL populations. For example, Michigan, Kansas, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Massachusetts each saw their EL populations at least double in size from 2004-2005 to 2011-2012. Serving EL students has become a focus nationwide. 

In addition, Department of Education (ED), Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics data reveals a widening achievement gap between ELs and non-ELs. While EL scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) grade 8 mathematics grew from 241 in 2003 to 245 in 2013, the achievement gap grew from 37 to 41 points in those years—a 10.8 percent increase. Similarly, while EL scores on NAEP grade 8 reading increased slightly from 222 in 2003 to 225 in 2013, the achievement gap between ELs and non-ELs grew from 41 to 43 points in the respective years—a 4.9 percent increase. EL students are falling further behind their non-EL peers. Clearly, there is added cause for concern.

Federal laws and regulations establish a broad framework governing the education of ELs. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance. Charter schools – as public schools – are required to follow these laws and statutes. In determining whether a school district’s programs for EL students comply with the civil-rights laws, ED applies the standards established by the 1978 United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit case Castañeda v. Pickard. Specifically, ED considers whether the educational theory underlying the language-assistance program is recognized as sound by some experts in the field or a legitimate experimental strategy; whether the program is reasonably calculated to effectively implement the educational theory adopted by the school; and whether the students’ language barriers are being overcome within a reasonable period of time. EL students are expected to make progress in English proficiency as well as grade-level content mastery.

A March 2015 webinar produced by the National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC) interprets new data on ELs and sheds light on recently published ED and Department of Justice (DOJ) resources that aim to assist charter schools, and all public schools, to meet their obligations to ELs and provide their limited English proficiency (LEP) parents or guardians with meaningful access to school-related information.

The webinar features two speakers, Marianna Vinson, Deputy Director for ED’s office of English Language Acquisition and Carolyn Seugling, a senior attorney in ED’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Vinson highlights the achievement gap between ELs and non-ELs and the need for EL students to have equal access to high-quality education options. Fulfilling this need is crucial, she says, because “What we know is that many times these achievement gaps are preceded by opportunity and equity gaps.”

In her overview of the recently released guidance and parent-communication fact sheets, Seugling discusses what she calls “the ten main civil rights issues” faced by schools serving EL students. The ten issues are:

  • Identification and assessment
  • Language assistance program
  • Staffing and supporting an EL program
  • Meaningful access to curricular and extracurricular programs
  • Unnecessary segregation
  • Evaluating EL students for special education and providing special education
  • Opting out of EL programs
  • Monitoring and exiting EL students
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of a program
  • Meaningful communication with LEP parents

Using data and information to examine how charter schools can be in compliance with federal law, Seugling and Vinson seek to detail what each of these ten areas means at the campus level. Schools may conduct a self-assessment of their compliance with federal law by accessing the many resources ED and DOJ have published on EL education. “For schools conducting a self-assessment,” Ms. Seugling says, “these parts of the guidance may be particularly helpful.”

To further assess their compliance, schools can make use of an EL tool kit that is being developed. The first chapter has been published and was presented in the webinar. It contains useful resources, such as sample Home Language Surveys. The tool kit aims to share “how” a school can meet the needs of an EL population. Additional chapters will be published in the coming months.  

The following resources and guidelines were also highlighted in the webinar:  

Charter School Dear Colleague Letter (May 14, 2014)

This letter from ED’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Catherine E. Lhamon, provides a reminder that charter schools are subject to the same federal civil rights obligations as all other public schools and highlights some of the legal requirements related to admissions, student discipline, students with disabilities, and English language learners.  Click here for the letter.

Fact Sheet: Ensuring English Learner Students Can Participate Meaningfully and Equally in Educational Programs (Jan. 2015)

This fact sheet provides an overview of the ED-DoJ joint guidance and focuses on the responsibilities of school districts. The fact sheet is available in ten languages.  Click here for the fact sheet.

Fact Sheet: Information for Limited English Proficient Parents and for Schools and School Districts that Communicate with Them (Jan. 2015)

This fact sheet answers common questions about the rights of LEP parents and guardians. The fact sheet is available in ten languages.  Click here for the fact sheet.

EL and LEP Parents Web Page

The obligation not to discriminate based on race, color, or national origin requires charter schools to take steps to ensure that ELs can meaningfully participate in educational programs and services, and to communicate information to LEP parents in a language they can understand. The guidance, fact sheets, Tool Kit and other resources (including translated versions of the guidance and fact sheets) are available on the EL Students and LEP Parents web page. Click here for OCR’s EL Students and LEP Parents web page.

The Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC)

The CRDC is a biennial survey required by OCR. Since 1968, the CRDC has collected data on key education and civil rights issues in our nation's public schools for use by OCR in its enforcement and monitoring efforts regarding equal educational opportunity. The CRDC is also a tool for educators and the public to analyze student equity and opportunity. According to the CRDC website, the 2011-12 survey compiled data on approximately 16,500 school districts. Click here for the CRDC

1.U.S. Department of Education, 2008-10 Biennial Report to Congress and EDFacts/Consolidated State Performance Reports, SYs 2010-11, 2011-12, and 2012-13

English Learners Case Study

As schools strive to ensure that all students are reaching their full potentials, The National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC) has recently highlighted three schools that are excelling in this practice. Three multimedia case studies showcase programs for English Learners at El Sol Science and Arts Academy in Santa Ana, California; Alma del Mar Charter School in New Bedford, Massachusetts; and Folk Arts - Cultural Treasures Charter School (FACTS) in Philadelphia.

NCSRC selected these schools based on their data and recommendations by sector leaders, and because they give charter school leaders successful lessons and practices to draw from in working with their own English Learners students. With video interviews from the model schools’ leaders, teachers and staff, the case studies paint a clear picture of each school environment, system, and English Learner initiatives.

Innovative practices include El Sol’s dual-immersion program, heavily focused on language mastery and acquisition: first in Spanish and then in English. The school strongly believes in developing bi-literacy and bilingualism through multi-cultural activities and embedded programs that promote students’ primary and secondary language. Similarly, Alma Del Mar utilizes an Expeditionary Learning Model, creating opportunities for children to use their primary and secondary languages in real-world experiences. To complement similar instructional practices, FACTS has a rigorous community outreach program.

As each school demonstrates its approach to meet English Learner students’ needs effectively, viewers better understand the many techniques available to ensure that all students continue to achieve mastery and remain on a path to college and career readiness.

Click To View Case Studies:

Read More on English Learners:

Resources Available to Charter Schools on Messaging

As many charter schools learn during the start-up phase, effectively communicating with the public and media is critical to success and expansion. Understanding which data points appeal to the public and media allows charter schools to create buy-in from the community they serve. Fortunately, some charter school stakeholders with experience in messaging have created materials to help charter schools persuasively address the public and media. Below we highlight some of the resources available.

To help charter support organization leaders and staff hone their communications and public relations skills, the National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC) and the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools (the Alliance) recently hosted a Master Class on the topic. (Details on current and previous Master Classes are available on the Alliance’s website.) To improve communication with their communities, charter schools can:

  • Emphasize that charter schools are free, public schools;
  • Explain that charter schools are open enrollment and must serve students from all socioeconomic backgrounds;
  • Demonstrate strong public interest within the community (long waiting lists), and nationally (for instance, 71 percent of those polled in a  recent Education Post poll view charter schools favorably);
  • Highlight that the schools have the potential to offer a high-quality, college preparatory education to students, and showcase examples of high-performing charter schools;
  • Explain that charter schools have more flexibility in how they implement curriculum (i.e., longer school hours, STEM-focused programming, etc.);
  • Promote high standards of accountability around student performance.

The Alliance has developed other materials to help charter schools create and disseminate positive messaging about charter schools. “The Truth About Charters,” a four-part series, explains facts about charter schools to help clarify issues for the public and media. The Alliance also offers the complementary paper, “Separating Fact & Fiction: What You Need to Know About Public Charter Schools.” The paper is a resource for charter schools that are looking to provide “responses based on facts and independent research findings” to the public and media.

Charter schools have the chance to educate the public and the media about charter schools’ potential and performance by tailoring their message to the communities they serve and highlighting positive data. The resources cited serve as a vital starting point for messaging.

Read more:

·        The Truth About Charters

·        Separating Fact & Fiction: What You Need to Know About Public Charter Schools

·        Master Classes Webpage

    News Clips

    U.S. Department of Education Awards $4.1 Million in Charter School Program National Leadership Grants

    The U.S. Department of Education has awarded six grants totaling $4.1 million through the Charter Schools Program (CSP) National Leadership Activities Program.  The grants will be used to help strengthen charter schools and charter school authorizers, as well as improve capacity to serve English learners and students with disabilities. The grantees are: (1) the Alameda County Office of Education; (2) the California Charter Schools Association; (3) the Illinois Network of Charter Schools; (4) the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association; (5) the National Association of Charter School Authorizers; and (6) New Schools for New Orleans. Grants will run for three years.

    Read more here.


    Alabama Becomes the 43rd State to Allow Charter Schools

    Alabama Governor, Robert Bentley, has signed a bill that will allow charter schools to begin operating in the state as early as fall 2016. The bill allows for ten new “startup” schools each year and unlimited conversions of existing schools. The charter schools will be started by nonprofit organizations but could contract out school operations to for-profit companies. The legislation also creates an eleven-member state commission that could overturn a local school board’s decision to reject a charter school application. There will be a rotating seat for local representatives, but the majority of the appointments to the commission will be made by the governor and legislative leaders.

    Read more here.


    New York City Will Provide Free Space for a Dozen Charter Schools

    Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration will provide free space in public school buildings to a dozen new or expanding charter schools, including ten schools run by Eva S. Moskowitz. In March, the state legislature passed a law supportive of charter school growth, requiring the city to provide charter schools free space. This action has aided in giving voice to charter schools that are in need of space as well as provided an avenue for schools to express challenges in obtaining space.

    Read more here.


    Denver Public Schools Propose a New Facilities Policy Grounded In Academic Performance

    Denver Public Schools are running out of space to house new programs as enrollment surges. The proposed facilities policy, applying to both charter and district schools, would tie placement decisions to schools’ academic performance, enrollment patterns, and other district priorities.

    Read more here.


    Grand Prairie Partners Independent School District Partners with Charter Operator to Create a New Kind of Campus in Texas

    The Grand Prairie, Texas school district and charter operator Uplift Education announce a partnership that will mean both entities will move toward operating schools out of one campus, a first for the area.

    Read more here.


    Spokane Public Schools Launch New Enrollment System

    Spokane public schools have a new enrollment system that allows students to attend a school of their choice. The new program is designed for families who want their children to go to schools other than their neighborhood school.

    Read more here.


    May 7 - 8, 2015: Washington State Charter Schools Association Conference

    Seattle, Washington


    May 26, 2015: Office of English Language Acquisition, US Department of Education (OELA) Learning Session Featuring Kenji Hakuta

    Time: 2pm - 3:30pm ET

    Location: LBJ Auditorium, Department of Education, Washington DC

    RSVP by: May 18 (please email and indicate if you will attend in person)

    Nationally recognized scholar and researcher Kenji Hakuta of Stanford University will present a broad historical overview of the policy and research to effectively implement college –and-career-ready standards for English Learners. A panel of teachers will provide their perspectives in response to the presentation and research findings. OELA is pleased to co-sponsor this session with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.  

    *If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate in this event, i.e. sign language interpreter, captioning services, Braille, large print or CD Rom, please contact Anthony Sepulveda by phone at 202-260-0464 or by email no later than May 18.