Recap to Reengage: Preparing to Assure Linguistic Equity

This blog post concludes a yearlong series highlighting the civil rights of English learners (ELs).  The framework for the blog has centered around building educator capacity to serve ELs, professional learning, and cultivating advocates for culturally and linguistically diverse learners. The world today looks very different from when we started this conversation, but the essence of the blog remains relevant. It is my hope that this blog has served as a resource by contributing to action-based conversations that lead to improved outcomes for ELs.

Reflecting on the Data

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the 2020 TESOL Virtual Advocacy & Policy Summit. Updates from Supreet Anand, Deputy Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition, who spoke on “Equity and Access to High-Quality Education: A National Conversation on English Learners” were insightful because she talked about opportunities for equity. For example, in 2016–2017, 14% of ELs were also identified as having a learning disability and 16% as experiencing homelessness. In regard to high school course enrollment trends, only 2% of ELs were enrolled in advanced math and calculus courses, compared to 98% of non-ELs.

It is interesting to know these data were collected prepandemic. What might these trends look like in an online or remote learning context? Here’s where we can find opportunities with a continued focus on equity. Following are a few examples:

Math Enrollment Trends

When thinking about high school math course enrollment trends, we can start by looking at math instruction from kindergarten to Grade 6. Here are some questions related to equity we could ask:

  • Are the trajectories equitable? If not, what needs to be improved?
  • What math supports are available, and who has access?
  • What curriculum and pedagogical approaches are being used?
  • Are we closely monitoring student outcomes so that we are not surprised when high school course enrollments trends are less than ideal or exceed our projections?

Displaced Students

When thinking about students who are displaced, we need to consider the various supports that are available to them and help those resources get directly to students and their families. Here are some questions related to equity we could ask:

  • Where are students housed? With extended family members, in shelters, or somewhere else?
  • Do they have regular access to food, clothing, toiletries, and school supplies?
  • How might their teachers and school counselors be of support during the student’s temporary situation?

We must ask ourselves all these questions while keeping in mind that the students have goals and aspirations that are obtainable regardless of how things appear today. How can we as educators and advocates be a positive contributor to their learning trajectory?

Opportunities for Creating Equity

As disturbing as the aforementioned statistics are, it is important to look at both short- and long-term plans for ELs across your teaching context. Without having both a birds-eye and granular view of the work, it can be easy to miss opportunities to create more equitable experiences. Some considerations that are undergirded by The 2015 “Dear Colleague Letter” issued by The U.S. Office of Civil Rights and The U.S. Department of Justice include

  • having a clear understanding of how students are identified as ELs and the languages they speak
  • how students demonstrate growth and proficiency in English, and/or other languages as determined by the program model(s)
  • remote learning plans and their level of inclusivity (simply having a device does not ensure participation and access; see the U.S. Department of Education Fact Sheet for more)
  • plans for professional learning with a focus on ELs
  • partnerships with parents that are two-way and ongoing

These are not all of the considerations, but they offer a place to start when thinking about how best to create new and/or different learning communities. For more specific considerations, visit past blogs, where I focused on specific mandates with examples and guiding questions.

References

Anand, S. (2020, June 22). Equity and access to high-quality education: A national conversation on English learners [Conference presentation, online]. 2020 TESOL Virtual Advocacy & Policy Summit.

U.S. Department of Justice & U.S. Department of Education. (2015). Dear colleague letter. English learner students and limited English proficient parents. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-el-201501.pdf

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 improve instructional practices. She is currently serving on the TESOL Board of Directors.
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