Thursday, January 8, 2015
The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice yesterday released joint guidance on schools' legal obligations to English Language Learners. They also released some tools and resources to assist schools in carrying out their obligations. Those tools and resources include:
- A fact sheet in English and in other languages about schools’ obligations under federal law to ensure that English learner students can participate meaningfully and equally in school.
- A fact sheet in English and in other languages about schools’ obligations under federal law to communicate information to limited English proficient parents in a language they can understand.
- A toolkit to help school districts identify English learner students, prepared by the Education Department’s Office of English Language Acquisition. This is the first chapter in a series of chapters to help state education agencies and school districts meet their obligations to English learner students.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
In 1982 in Plyer v. Doe, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas statute that prohibited school districts from enrolling undocumented immigrant students. The Court held that the statute was discriminatory and unconstitutionally irrational. States have enacted statutes similarly aimed at discouraging immigrant students from enrolling on a few occassions since then. None, however, have gone into practical effect, as all have been deemed unconstitutional in short order. In some instances, legislators allowed that they knew the legislation was unconstitutional, but wanted the Court to revisit the rationale of Plyer v. Doe. The Court, of course, has not done so.
Statutes and policies of this sort remain unconstitutional and fervor for them has died down in the past few years. This year, however, has brought a new, but related problem, particularly in those localities that have seen an influx of unaccompanied minors escaping violence, kidnapping threats, and the like in their home countries. Some school districts say they are overwhelmed by the influx of students, and lacking in the space and resources necessary to serve them. Those excuses, however, would earn the districts no quarter in refusals to enroll the students. Instead, the districts admit the students are eligible to enroll, but have excluded them based on inadequate paperwork and documentation. Yesterday's New York Times tells the story of students in Long Island waiting months to be enrolled in the schools, and points out that the problem is not unique to Long Island:
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Last month, OCR reached two significant settlement agreements. The first was with New Hampshire’s Manchester School District, School Administrative Unit #37. The settlement agreement was in response to tracking and unequal access to college and career preparatory courses for black and Latino students. The most stark disparities were in the district’s AP courses. "Despite the enrollment of 381 black students and 596 Latino students at the high schools, only 17 seats in AP classes went to black students and only nine seats in AP classes went to Latino students, out of the total of 434 seats in AP courses. At two of the three high schools, there were no Latino students enrolled in the AP courses." OCR found a number of structural barriers in the district's policies that lead to these disparities. The district agreed to several steps to address the disparities, the most notable of which were:
- Identify and implement strategies subject to OCR review and approval to increase student participation in its higher-level learning opportunities, particularly for underrepresented groups such as black, Latino and ELL students.
- Consider increasing the numbers and types of courses, adding more teachers qualified to teacher higher-level courses and revising selection criteria for enrollment in higher level learning opportunities if these are barriers to increased participation.
- Specifically assess the impact of assigning students to academic “levels” upon arrival at the high schools on their participation in higher-level learning opportunities, and consider eliminating the system of student assignment to levels or altering the current criteria or method of implementation.
- Specifically consider eliminating the GPA and class rank penalties associated with withdrawing from higher-level courses.
- Provide increased support for students enrolled in higher level learning opportunities through counseling, peer support groups and tutoring.
The other settlement agreement was with the Hazleton, Pa., Area School District. OCR found that English Language Learner (ELL) students in the district did not have access to equal educational opportunities and that the district was not adequately notifying their parents of information made available to other parents in English. More than 10 percent of Hazleton's students are ELLs, which would suggest a scale that should have allowed the district to operate a more robust program, but OCR found that the district was inappropriately excusing students from the English language development program, not providing the required instructional time for over 240 elementary school ELL students, not evaluating the effectiveness of its program, and not using an effective system to identify and communication with limited English proficient parents. The district agreed to take the following steps:
- Ensuring that students whose primary home language is not English will be promptly assessed for English language proficiency to determine eligibility for placement in an English language development program and that students will not be improperly exempted from assessment;
- Assessing students who were improperly exempted from language proficiency assessment to determine whether they may be eligible to receive English language development services;
- Conducting a comprehensive evaluation of the English language development program at each school level to determine its effectiveness and making modifications to address areas where the program is not meeting the district’s goals;
- Developing and implementing policies and procedures to ensure that LEP parents are notified, in a language they understand, of school activities that are called to the attention of other parents; and
- Providing training to appropriate staff on procedures for identifying language-minority parents and on policies and procedures for serving language minority parents.
Friday, May 9, 2014
The Departments of Education and Justice have released this new guidance on access to school for immigrant children:
Today, Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder announced updated guidance to assist public elementary and secondary schools to ensure enrollment processes are consistent with the law and fulfill their obligation to provide all children – no matter their background – equal access to an education.
In 2011, the Departments of Justice and Education issued guidance to help schools understand their responsibilities under the Supreme Court’s decision in Plyler v. Doe and federal civil rights laws to provide all children with equal access to an education regardless of their or their parents’ immigration status. Today, the departments are issuing important updates to that guidance, including examples of permissible enrollment practices, as well as examples of the types of information that may not be used as a basis for denying a student entrance to school.
The updated guidance documents— including a guidance letter to states and school districts and a fact sheet and Q and A document—emphasize the need for flexibility in accepting documents from parents to prove a child’s age and to show that a child resides within a school’s attendance area. They also provide specific examples of the types of documents that many schools have accepted. And the guidance documents remind schools that they may not require certain documents – such as a parent’s state-issued driver’s license – where such a requirement would prevent a student from enrolling because of his or her parent’s immigration status.
In the three years since the guidance was initially issued in 2011, the departments have worked collaboratively with states and school districts across the country to meet their obligations under Plyler and federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin.
The important changes announced today will provide districts with the additional tools and practical guidance needed to make sure the schoolhouse door is open to all students and that undocumented children and children from immigrant families no longer face barriers to enrollment in school and starting down the path to a better future.
The Departments of Education and Justice
Thursday, March 20, 2014
One Nation Indivisible has released its newest story, Utah's Bilingual Boon, which profiles Spanish two-way bilingual programs in which native English speaking and native Spanish speaking students share classrooms and learn together in both languages. These two way programs are part of a larger, state-supported language immersion effort. This story took One Nation Indivisible to rural, urban and suburban schools in Heber City, Park City and Kamas. See the full story here.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
In 1998, California passed a ballot measure to ban bilingual education in public schools. Similar initiatives followed in Colorado, Arizona, and Massachusetts, passing in the latter two states. The ban in California led to litigation in Valeria v. Davis, 307 F.3d 103 (9th Cir. 2002), in which plaintiffs alleged the ban was motivated by discriminatory intent. The Ninth Circuit disagreed, finding the state had a legitimate non-discriminatory explanation: its educational judgment that English immersion is the better pedagogy.
A decade and a half after banning bilingual education, the state may be poised to reverse course. State senator Sen. Ricardo Lara has introduced a bill to repeal the ban on bilingual education. He intends to put the issue before voters on the 2016 ballot. Some believe that the politics have sufficiently changed in the state and the bill may pass. Researchers also point out that bilingual education is not just a cultural or individual interest issue. Rather, bilingualism is a valuable economic resource that the state needs to be able to tap. While the economy has become global over the past 15 years, California's education system has effectively demanded that it remain local. For more on the bill and research, see here and here.
Friday, November 1, 2013
Two years after passing a sweeping anti-immigrant bill, Alabama is relenting. The bill had wide-ranging impacts on immigrant communities (and those interacting with them) that touched on almost every aspect of their lives. Some may recall that the bill included a measure that required schools to verify the immigration status of newly enrolled K-12 students. The day after the bill went into effect, news reports indicated that scores of Latino students, in particular, went missing from school. This included students who were, in fact, citizens or were legally in the country. I never caught news of these students returning. Alabama apparently achieved its presumed purpose: to encourage these families to leave the state. I imagine that few of those uprooted families have intentions of returning to Alabama, but the settlement agreement negotiated by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other civil rights group with the state protects them if they do. The state has agreed to permanently abandon this and other aspects of the bill. See here for more details.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
In yesterday's Federal Register, the U.S. Department called on stakeholders to provide input into the Department's research priorities in regard to English Language Learners. The public notices states:
Education (Department) requests information on priorities for future evaluation and research studies needed to inform effective instruction, assessment, and professional development that is responsive to the needs of English learners (ELs).
Comments are due by October 9, 2013. The full notice is available here.
Friday, August 23, 2013
The Goverment Accountability Office had been tasked with comparing the enrollment of English Language Learners (ELLs) in traditional public schools versus charter schools. Last month, it issued a report finding that it could not make the comparision because the "only available data on school-level ELL enrollment were unreliable and incomplete. Specifically, for over one-third of charter schools, the field for reporting the counts of ELLs enrolled in ELL programs was left blank. These blank fields cannot reliably be interpreted to mean that the charter schools did not have ELLs enrolled." This national number, however, grossly understates the problem in many states. Over 60% of charter schools in Idaho, Lousiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Wyoming, Kansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio failed to provide ELL data. The GAO also emphasized that this data failure in regard to ELL, while significant in an of itself, is likely an indicator of overall problems in data collection and reporting for charter schools.
Friday, July 19, 2013
Court Rejects English Language Learner and Segregation Claims, But Accepts Discrimination in Gifted and Talented
After eight years of litigation against a Chicago area school district, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund has a final decision, but it was not the one it was wanting. The district court in McFadden v. Board of Educ. for Illinois School Dist. U-46, 2013 WL 3506010 (N.D.Ill.,2013), ruled against plaintiffs on their two major claims: segregation and an inadequate English Language Learner (ELL) program.
I found the court's opinion curious, however, in its tone and approach to the evidence. In regard to plaintiffs' challenge to the student assignment and facilities plan, the court wrote:
It is clear to the court, considering all of the evidence and the extensive testimony presented at the trial, that the professional staff of the District, including its superintendent and board, were dealing with an increasing population generally, an increasing number of students who required special language support, a budgetary crisis, and an active, involved community. Regardless of the decisions ultimately made by the District, some portion of the population would be unhappy. The ultimate decision to adopt a neighborhood school concept that minimized busing and allowed children to attend schools nearer to their homes was not objectively unreasonable, nor in this court's opinion caused by any racial animus or preference by the District.
The court is correct that some group will always be unhappy, but this does not answer the question of whether a school district has catered to one segment of the population because it wants to make it happy and is less concerned about making others unhappy. As I argued in my early scholarship, the state just as surely violates equal protection by being unsympathetic or deliberately indiffernt to a particular racial or ethnic group's interests as it does by intentionally targeting that group for unequal treatment. The court in McFadden pays little attention to this principle and or the fact it is consistently racial and ethnic minorities who must settle with being "unhappy" with school decisions.
The court's ELL analysis, likewise, reads as though the court was more than willing to excuse district failures. For instance, it writes "no program of this size can be expected to be free of criticism or deficiencies." Sure, criticisms alone don't tell us much, but if deficiencies exist, a district must justify them under the requirements of the Equal Education Opportunities Act and the prevailing three-prong standard from Castenada v. Pickard.
Applying that standard, the court wrote, "although plaintiffs have identified a number of problems and concerns about the ELL program as it existed prior to the close of discovery in 2009, the court finds that by that time the District had established and recognized programs in place to educate its non-English speaking students in its educational programs." Again, the question remains as to whether those programs were effective in helping students to overcome language barriers, not simply whether programs were in place. More poignantly, did the new programs remedy the problems that plaintiffs had identified through discovery?
One problem plaintiffs identified was insufficient numbers of qualifed ELL teachers. On this question the court wrote:
Plaintiffs also complain about the lack of leadership and deficiencies in professional development and in hiring qualified ELL teachers. The court has reviewed this evidence, and finds that plaintiffs have failed to prove deficiencies sufficient to constitute violations of the EEOA. It should be noted, as recognized by a number of courts, that there is a national shortage of qualified ELL teachers, and that the District has gone to great lengths to recruit such teachers for its increasingly diverse student body.
First, the court cites to dated cases for the proposition that there is teacher shortage. Even if there still is a general shortage, undifferentiated national trends tells us little of whether this school district has a justification for not complying with an educational duty. Second, the court in Teresa P. v. Berkeley, to which the court cites, excused the failure to hire certified teachers because other metrics suggested the teachers were competent and, more important, the data suggested that student achievement was high in the district. Thus, the lack of certified teachers was not interfering with the educational program. In other words, there is no free standing exemption from hiring qualified language program teachers, which the McFadden court implies. In fact, the failure to hire appropriate staff was one of the clearest and most powerful violations recognized in the seminal Castaneda decision, which McFadden indicates it is applying. The court in McFadden does not discuss student achievement, nor does it offer a detailed justification of the district's hiring woes.
Finally, the court indicates:
Plaintiffs also attack the District's alleged violation of the “90% rule,” a requirement by the ISBE regulations that ELL classes be 90% of the size of the general classrooms in the building in which they are situated. First, a violation of a state regulation does not necessarily equate to a violation of the EEOA. Plaintiffs are required to prove that such a violation, if it occurred, impeded the students' ability to learn English or participate equally in the District's instructional programs. Although plaintiffs have introduced evidence that the 90% rule was violated in certain instances, the evidence fails to show a systemic failure that results in an EEOA violation.
Here, the court appears to muddle its analysis. It is correct that a violation of the 90% rule does not automatically equate with an EEOA violation, but the Castaneda standard's second prong requires a state or district to properly implement its chosen ELL program. Schools have wide discretion in chosing their method of ELL instruction under Castaneda's first prong, but once they choose a method, Castaneda indicates they must implement it consistent with their chosen education theory. If the 90% rule is the state and district's chosen method, they are expected to abide by it. If they violate it, the burden presumably should be on the district to justify its deviation, not on the plaintiffs to show that the deviation was causing special harm.
The district court's analysis of the gifted and talent program was straightforward. The school district was placing ELL and non-ELL students into different gifted and talented programs, even including students who had phased out of the ELL program. The court found this practice discriminatory and unable to pass strict scrutiny.