As the debate over No Child Left Behind continues in Washington, D.C., New America’s Dual Language Learners National Work Group has asked several dual language learner (DLL) experts for their thoughts on how to update Title III of that law. Our first post along these lines included ideas from Dr. Eugene Garcia and Dr. Patricia Gándara.

Maria Millard
Policy Analyst, Education Commission of the States

Funding for English Language Learners (ELLs) is an emerging policy focus. States are re-examining their current ELL funding mechanisms and allocations to address the growing number of ELLs. Here at ECS, we get numerous requests for information on ELL funding from state policymakers hoping to find solutions to competing budgetary priorities. Although states receive funding through Title III, administrators often report that funds for ELL services are “insufficient.”

Forty-six states allocate additional state funding dedicated to supporting ELLs but even with that additional effort, many states fall short of adequately meeting the needs of ELL students. States and districts are limited in their ability to provide services to ELLs, staff classrooms with well-trained teachers, offer professional development, or provide students with enough time in ELL programs. While Title III has historically raised awareness about the importance of providing educational services to ELLs, funding shortfalls and existing funding disparities may continue to challenge states.

There are great variations in how much money states receive from Title III grants annually. The range is less than $500,000 (several states) to over $168 million (California). Certainly funding variations are natural, as states have differing numbers of ELL students. However, there is a large difference in the amount of Title III money ELL students get in each state: seven states receive less than $120 per student while in four states the per-pupil allocation exceeds $300. This disparity is mainly attributed to the way ELL students are counted. The current survey mechanism has a larger margin of error than actual counts would produce, according to the National Research Council. Without consistent accounting for ELLs, smaller states will get the short end of the stick. Subgroup identification and classification will be an important issue to address in the reauthorization of ESEA’s Title III, as Dr. Garcia argues in his blog post here.

Consistent accounting for ELLs would make a difference, as would reconsidering the ESEA reauthorization’s proposed $13 million cut to Title III funds:

  • In fiscal year 2009, Title III funding was $730 million
  • In FY 2010, $750 million
  • Proposed FY 2015, $737 million

Money does matter. A 2015 National Bureau of Economic Research study finds that increased per-pupil spending can meaningfully improve the long-term outcomes of recently educated children. This cut in Title III funding would mean that states would have to step up their financial commitment to adequately finance ELL students. Already, there is a wide range in state allocations for ELLs and the relative priority they are given. For example, Maryland’s funding formula provides a weight of 99 percent, meaning that an ELL student receives an additional 99 percent of the general education base amount. Kentucky provides a weight of 9.6 percent—a sharp contrast. Current state-level funding differences, coupled with the decrease in federal funding, may further exacerbate disparities in achievement between ELL students and general education students across the states. And yet, our collective goal is to provide an evidence-based, high-quality education for all kids, no matter their zip code, no matter their mother tongue.

Karen Nemeth
Language Castle

Gene’s and Patricia’s recommendations for updating Title III included three of my key advocacy points:

  1. Focus on dual language development, not just progress toward English, and not only English/Spanish;
  2. Focus on PreK-3rd grades; and
  3. Focus on holding teacher education programs and faculty accountable for updating teacher preparation to fit diverse populations.

Here are two things I would add to the discussion:

Instead of focusing on misplaced assessment requirements and more focus on high quality instructional practice for DLLs from PreK-12, one absolutely critical component of the reauthorization of ESEA’s Title III will be a more clear set of expectations about what school administrators must know and be able to do to properly support developmentally appropriate education for DLLs. This is particularly important for programs serving pre-K and K where watering down ESL strategies from the older grades can do more harm than good. Administrators can’t just keep sending teachers to courses and conferences if they expect lasting improvements to happen in their programs. If the OELA is reinvigorated under the new Title III, we could expect clear guidance for administrators along with professional development materials and events to support them in setting up and supervising programs that work.

We also need to see a shift in terminology and, with it, a shift in attitude. The old term “limited English proficient” is not accurate or useful, especially in pre-K. Programs and services for DLLs are no longer a small, specialized subset of the educational field. With the rapid growth of linguistic diversity in every region of the U.S., children who speak other languages at home will appear in every kind of class—not just ESL or bilingual education classes. General education teachers in pre-k and elementary school; content area teachers in middle and high school; teachers of special education, physical education, technology, art, or music; school librarians; social workers and therapists will all be working with DLLs who may or may not be getting specialized language support. All members of the school community need to upgrade their skills to be responsive and effective with DLLs. Title III guidance should be less about funding special services and more about improving the entire school climate to foster the academic achievement of each and every student.

Note: This post is part of New America’s Dual Language Learner National Work Group. Click here for more information on this team’s work.

[Cross-posted at Ed Central]

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Conor Williams

Conor Williams is a Senior Researcher in the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation. Find him on Twitter: @ConorPWilliams