Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Starting Early With English Language Learners

English Language Learners are a large and growing population in America’s public school system, but schools often fall short in preparing these students for success in college and the workforce. One state, Illinois, has tried to reverse that trend by starting services for young English Language Learners before they arrive in kindergarten.

Illinois is in the process of expanding its services for English Language Learners into state-funded pre-K, so that students begin receiving ELL support when they first arrive in school, whether that is at age 3, 4, or 5.

A new paper, Starting Early with English Language Learners: First Lessons From Illinois, takes a deep look at how Illinois came to see a need for new policies for its burgeoning population of English Language Learners, and why focusing on its youngest English Language Learners was the state’s next step.

As in most states, achievement gaps in Illinois’s schools are large, with only five percent of English Language Learners reading on grade level in fourth grade compared to 33 percent of all fourth graders in the state. To build important language skills early on and reduce remediation in the later grades, Illinois changed state law to include state-funded pre-K children in public school efforts to help English Language Learners.

That change has led to a series of new regulations for teacher preparation and classroom instruction that are reverberating throughout the state’s pre-K system. Mant pre-K providers, for example, now need to hire teachers with bilingual or English as a Second Language (ESL) credentials to instruct English Language Learners—but since pre-K teacher never needed these credentials before, there are very few of them around. Teacher training programs, too, are adjusting their curricula to include coursework for teaching young English Language Learners.