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Summer 2011

Lesson Plan: Nonie Lesaux

We asked our Facebook fans to tell us what one question they would ask an Ed School faculty member if given the opportunity. The one we chose for this issue was from Maria Marimar.

Maria Marimar: How is Obama’s education policy working for English language learners?

Associate Professor Nonie Lesaux: The Obama administration has certainly been focused on education reform, but I don’t know of a policy that focuses explicitly on English language (EL) learners. While federal education legislation during the last administration focused on the important goal of improving young children’s foundational reading skills, these skills alone will not inoculate children against later academic difficulties. This is particularly the case for EL learners, who typically master decoding and build reading fluency during the primary grades when basic stories are used, but who are more likely to struggle as the language of middle and high school text becomes more complex and more discipline specific.

There are several policies (proposed, underway, or in place) by the Obama administration that broaden the focus on reading and academic development, increasing attention to knowledge building and language growth, from early childhood through adolescence — and those expansive policies may be especially beneficial for EL learners. For example, the blueprint for the next iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (current version is the No Child Left Behind Act, 2002) proposes more accountability-based emphasis on assessment and instruction that support content learning and higher-order skills. In addition, the Common Core Standards include significant attention to language development for the overall school population, with a section focused exclusively on standards for EL learners. Another Obama effort, The Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy grants program, assists states in creating or maintaining a comprehensive literacy plan for children birth through grade 12; creating quality learning environments across the age span has the potential to promote academic outcomes for all children, including EL learners. Finally, there is the proposed DR EAM Act, and the White House’s Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, both of which relate to a large proportion of EL learners in today’s classrooms.

Analyzing how federal education policies may impact particular groups of students is an important task. Thanks for raising this question about the large and growing EL population.

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