Report: Two-Generation Approach Will Improve English Learning


The Center for American Progress has issued a report advocating for a two-generation approach to making sure English Language Learners (or ELL students) become proficient in English, which takes into account the importance of the home environment for becoming truly comfortable with a language.

In November, President Obama announced the intention to focus immigration enforcement on more pressing matters like criminals and new arrivals, allowing almost 5 million undocumented immigrants to temporarily remain in America legally. Many of these people are parents of US citizens or legal residents, writes Tracey Ross of the Center for American Progress. To succeed in America, these children will need to be proficient in English, a skill that is affected not only by their schooling but their home environment.

Between 2000 and 2013, the Latino population of the US grew 43% compared to the 5.7% growth of non-Latino whites during the same period, and the population of Asian descent increased by 46% between 2000 and 2010. Most ELL students have Spanish as their first or home language, though more than 150 languages are common in the demographic.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, however, are among the most likely to be limited in their English proficiency. Unfortunately, many of these students attend school in high-poverty areas, meaning that they don't necessarily get the attention and help that they need. When a student's English proficiency suffers, so does their ability to understand other coursework, leading to a 59% graduation rate in 2012 — well below the national average of 80%.

The report from the Center for American Progress outlines a two-generation approach that could be used for English Language Learners and that has already been used successfully for high-poverty communities. The organization focuses on issues like the minimum wage, immigration reform, and nondiscrimination protections, making ESL (English as a Second Language) students a priority. ELL is defined as:

… a student whose native language is not English, or who comes from an environment where a language other than English is dominant. In education, a number of terms are often used when referring to this population, including English language learners, or ELLs; English learners, or ELs; limited English proficient, or LEP; dual language learners; and non-native English speakers, among others. While these terms are often used interchangeably, school districts may define each term differently to distinguish between the levels of language skills that students possess. However, the federal government and many state governments use both ELL and LEP to mean the same thing.

Furthermore, LEP is most often used to describe working-age adults who have limited English language skills, as well as in the context of immigrants applying for citizenship, as proficiency in English is a requirement to pass the citizenship exam.

The report recommends:

  • Adopting the community school model to serve students and their families;
  • Allowing students to have extended learning time for additional instruction and practice in English that they need to complete their other studies, which in turn helps them keep pace with their native English speaking peers. This usually involves lengthening the school day or year to give students more instructional time;
  • Prioritizing family engagement, which is important for all learning but particularly critical in immersive language learning;
  • Creating workplace-oriented English classes for adults;
  • Providing English Language Learning training for teachers, who may not understand the particular challenges of teaching English Language Learners.
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