Report examines strategies for educating English Language Learners
Evidence favors bilingual education over English-only; quality of instruction matters most
High-quality public education in Massachusetts has played an important role in expanding opportunity and creating a strong, high-wage state economy. In its newest paper, Excellence for All: Supporting English Language Learners in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (MassBudget) explores strategies for improving the education of English Language Learners (ELL).
Excellence for All examines the data on what has been happening in our schools with respect to ELL students and the evidence on best practices nationally. Massachusetts policy since 2002 has emphasized English immersion as the primary approach to ELL education. A balanced review of the research reveals, however, that there is generally more evidence supporting bilingual programs. The evidence also suggests that the most important factor for helping ELL students to succeed is the quality of the programs offered.
While Massachusetts schools generally lead the nation in academic achievement, we have not reached our standard of success for ELL students. Among ELL students, Massachusetts ranks 19th in 8th-grade reading and 10th in math. Although we have been making progress in raising ELL achievement levels, including a 12 percent increase in ELL graduation rates between 2008 and 2015, too many ELL students are falling behind.
Well-designed programs, including bilingual approaches that support learning in English along with other languages, have been shown to benefit ELL students. Rigorous research has found that effective programs include a number of strategies, such as:
- Increasing the professional development of educators - not only English or English as a Second Language teachers, but also training for other content teachers (e.g. science, math) - on how to effectively support ELL students
- Employing research-backed approaches to improving reading and literacy
- Providing tutoring for struggling students
- Implementing family outreach and student support programs, under the direction of ELL coordinators dedicated to these initiatives
A number of schools in Massachusetts and nationally have shown strong results implementing these types of strategies. With adequate funding, technical assistance, and the flexibility to create programs that best fit the needs of local students, more schools could make meaningful progress in helping all of our ELL students thrive.
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