In today’s increasingly competitive, global economy, we must deliver a world-class education to all students—regardless of the circumstances that they bring to their learning. This is a promise we must keep to our nation’s English learners, and to all of America’s learners. Working together at the federal, state, and local school levels, I know that we can achieve this goal.
I am committed to making this goal a reality as a researcher, educator, and as the newly appointed assistant deputy secretary and director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) at the U.S. Department of Education. OELA supports high-quality instruction for linguistically and culturally diverse students as well as professional development programs for teachers of English learners. Our programs are supporting progress in classrooms across the country, but I know we have so much more work to do.
Recently released results from the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—also known as the Nation’s Report Card—show us why. Students, including English learners, made modest performance gains in reading and math. But a wide achievement gap between English learners and their English proficient peers persists. Particularly worrisome is a 45-point gap in achievement in eighth grade reading, given the importance that reading skills play in literacy development and accessing knowledge in other subjects.
I was especially disappointed that the NAEP results reflect a persistent wide achievement gap between English learners and English proficient students, portending diminished socioeconomic opportunities for the nation’s fastest growing population of students—which numbers approximately 4.7 million, or 9.4 percent of K-12 enrollment.
The achievement gap and its potential impact on our nation’s economic competitiveness serve as a reminder that we still have a lot of work to do. Ensuring that English learners are supported and educated to achieve the same rigorous learning standards for all students is not only a moral obligation; it’s an economic imperative.
America’s long-term prosperity is linked to whether English learners attain the knowledge and skills they need to earn a postsecondary degree or certificate and enter a fulfilling career that will not only afford them an enhanced lifestyle, but also ensure that they are productive contributors to our society.
This is why the Department remains committed to the advancement of English learners by including this population in large-scale education reform initiatives, such as Race to the Top, Promise Neighborhoods, and the Investing in Innovation program.
Since 2001, OELA has provided national leadership in helping to ensure that English learners and immigrant students attain English proficiency and achieve academic success with appropriate social, emotional and cultural supports. OELA continues to oversee a number of federal funding programs that aim to improve instruction for English learners and assist educators who work with this student population.
For example, OELA’s National Professional Development (NPD) program helps to train teachers so that they may facilitate and accelerate students’ progress toward English language and academic proficiency. To date, the NPD program has achieved tremendous outcomes with more than 7,200 pre-service teachers having completed programs that led to teaching credentials. More than 6,700 in-service teachers have completed programs that have led to bilingual or English as a Second Language certification and hundreds of bilingual paraprofessionals are enrolled in and completing associate degree programs.
Another example of OELA’s support to the field includes the Native American and Alaska Native Children in School (NAANCS program. This initiative provides grants to eligible entities that support language instruction projects for limited English proficient children from Native American, Alaska Native, native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander backgrounds. The program is designed to ensure that limited English proficient children master English and meet the same rigorous standards for academic achievement that all children are expected to meet.
I’m also pleased to announce that OELA recently awarded a new contract for the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition (NCELA). Under the terms of the new contract, NCELA will be given a fresh, newly designed website that will be more interactive and will include an upgraded and updated resource library. The new clearinghouse will collect, analyze, synthesize, and disseminate information about the latest research and best practices for educating English learners.
Through the new clearinghouse, OELA reaffirms its continued commitment to supporting research, technical assistance and teacher professional development. We hope that the information and resources will spur meaningful progress that moves us closer to the goal of ensuring every student’s success.
–Libia Gil is the Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition at the U.S. Department of Education