Back-to-School Basics: Avoiding Civil Rights Violations (Part 2)

In a recent conversation, a colleague asked me a number of questions about supporting schools with various program models in place for their English learner (EL) population. In an effort to provide appropriate language support, we often ask simple questions that have complex answers. Sometimes, we don’t know what we don’t know. Last month’s blog focused on student identification procedures and appropriate placement and service models for eligible students. This month’s blog dives into the guidance for that placement and those service models.

Program Model Guidance

Part of the program model guidance outlined in the Dear Colleague letter is described in the following way:

Language assistance services or programs for EL students must be educationally sound in theory and effective in practice; however, the civil rights laws do not require any particular program or method of instruction for EL students. Students in EL programs must receive appropriate language assistance services until they are proficient in English and can participate meaningfully in the district’s educational programs without language assistance services. (p. 12)

Challenges Meeting the Guidance

Where this wording can become challenging for educators is in the phrase “any particular program or method,” which leads one to question what exactly is happening in their building. Some questions to ponder include these:

  1. What program model(s) do we have?
  2. Is this the model we need?
  3. Are all of our students being served with this model? If not, why not?
  4. What evidence do we have that supports this model?
  5. Do our teachers have what they need in order for this model to be successful?
  6. Are our students achieving?

Some language programs have been in place for years (e.g., “we’ve always done it this way”) while others have the autonomy to implement new models. Either way, we must center our support around the needs of the students. Program models need to be responsive to student needs rather than reacting negatively to student enrollment trends. What I mean by that is if a school has an established sheltered instruction model but they experience an influx of newcomers mid–school year, to what extent would their current program model be the best approach for newcomers? Having some flexibility with program models is an important part of being responsive to student needs.

Scenario: Communicating Program Model Goals and Objectives

A school offers a dual language first grade (English/Spanish) program for native English speakers and ELs. The goal is for students to develop literacy skills in both languages. The class is staffed with two certified teachers; both are bilingual and native Spanish speakers. The students will participate in the district’s required assessments for that grade level. The students will also take additional assessments in Spanish. Some possible questions  to consider are the following:

  • How is this program described to parents, especially to native Spanish speaking parents?
  • How is this program described to the school community including stakeholders?
  • Is the program and its expected outcomes described in writing in English and Spanish?
  • How often are the parents kept abreast of their child’s progress?
  • How and when is the student progress data shared with the learning community?
  • Is this particular program model sustained across grade levels, and/or how will it be?

Further Reading

For further reading about program models for ELs, be sure to download Sugarman’s (2018) A Matter of Design: English Learner Program Models in K-12 Education, issued by the Migrant Policy Institute. Sugarman describes various program models and considerations and implication of each.

Next month’s blog will focus on staffing and supporting staff members who teach in English language programs. Whether your institution implements content-based sheltered instruction models or dual language models, to assure the best possible outcomes for students, it is imperative to include support for ELs who may waive their participation, have knowledgeable educators, and have a plan to support those educators’ professional learning.

About Ayanna Cooper

Ayanna Cooper
Ayanna Cooper, EdD, is a consultant, author, keynote speaker, and advocate for culturally and linguistically diverse learners. As owner of ACooper Consulting, she provides technical assistance to state departments of education and other clients with the goal of improving outcomes for students. She emphasizes the importance of building capacity to develop and sustain English language programs, use English language proficiency data and to improve instructional practices. She is the author of "Creating and Sustaining Equitable Schools with English Learners" (in press) and coauthor of "Evaluating ALL Teachers of English Learners and Students with Disabilities, Supporting Great Teaching" (Corwin Press).
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