A new report from the Pioneer Institute has examined the practices used by charter schools in Massachusetts that are increasing the academic outcome of English language learners (ELLs) at a remarkable pace.
"Massachusetts Charter Public Schools: Best Practices Serving English Language Learners" uses school leader interviews as well as classroom observations made at three charter schools to determine and describe the strategies used to successfully boost the academic achievement of the ELL student population.
Throughout the state, the percentage of special education and ELL students attending charter schools is nearing that of those enrolled in the public school system. The study found that while four years ago the percentage of ELL students enrolled in Boston-area charter schools was just 2.5%, that number has increased to 12% this year, with suggestions that it will continue to climb.
"Critics claim that charters cherry-pick students and don't serve the same populations as traditional public schools, but this report provides clear evidence to the contrary," said Pioneer Institute Executive Director, Jim Stergios. "Some of the schools highlighted in this report are serving more English language learners than their district counterparts, and helping them achieve better results."
The analysis used two charter school networks and one individual charter school that received Level 1 accountability ratings from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) for the success they have had in decreasing achievement gaps. Two of the schools, Lowell Community Charter Public School (LCCPS) and The Community Group in Lawrence, enroll a higher percentage of ELL students than the surrounding public schools do.
According to the study, the three schools have a number of similarities allowing them to achieve these results, including offering an individualized education that focuses on inclusion. ELL specialists have the ability to "push in" to mainstream classrooms as well as "pull out" when necessary in order to give extra, individualized support.
Formative assessments are frequently given, allowing staff to work collaboratively to use data to determine the current needs of each student, and then adjusting the curriculum to support those needs.
Language is visible throughout the school so that students can be fully immersed in the English language everywhere they go by seeing vocabulary that is clear and accessible.
Teachers with a "growth mindset" are recruited who are also familiar with the backgrounds of attending students. These teachers are required to participate in differentiated and targeted training opportunities.
In addition, parents are regularly encouraged to become more involved in their child's education through outreach on student progress.
Pioneer Institute Senior Education Fellow Cara Stillings Candal, who authored the report, added that equipping teachers with the various strategies allows them to effectively meet the needs of ELL students and helps charter schools to reach a high level of achievement. "They are proving that students of all cultural, social, and economic backgrounds can excel academically when given the right tools and the opportunity," she said.
She also suggested that all education leaders consider ELL placement to be a temporary situation rather than a permanent one and that the goal should be to mainstream these students as quickly as possible.