by Tricia Gallagher-Geurtsen, Ed.D.
The U.S. Department of Education has released a draft of their Strategic Plan for 2014-2018. Equity for English learners is a persistent theme in the draft plan, however despite the Department's commitment to preparing students for "global competitiveness," the Department vision squanders the linguistic and cultural resources of language learners in the United States (p.3).
Although the second of the six goals outlined for elementary and secondary education is to, "consistently deliver excellent instruction aligned with rigorous academic standards while providing effective support services to close the achievement and opportunity gaps" (p.1), this goal falls short of how our country's educational system might prepare language learners for "global competitiveness" and interdependence. If we can see English learners as native speakers of global languages with global cultural knowledge, we can form a vision of rich educational futures for students.
English learners are mentioned more than 20 times in the 42 page plan mostly when describing how this population faces both an achievement and an opportunity gap - meaning that English learner's standardized test scores are lower than those of many other groups and that opportunities for learning for English learners, like advanced placement courses and preschool are less often available to them. Similarly, the 4th goal includes English learners as one of the Department's underserved populations that experience inequities that need treatment: "increase educational opportunities for and reduce discrimination against underserved students so that all students are well-positioned to succeed" (p. 15).
However, the solutions proposed lack a vision for multilingualism and multiculturalism which could likely serve this underserved population.* Solutions offered include adoption of standards, high expectations, additional assessments, highly-effective teachers and leaders, high-quality preschool, and improved teacher evaluation systems. Also mentioned are reductions of barriers to English learners and "improving the affordability of and access to college and/or workforce training" for this population (p. 9). However, the report is silent on specific strategies to meet the needs of English learners despite rigorous research on promising practices and the linguistic and cultural resources of English learners.
The central focus on increasing testing and teacher accountability limits the Department's ability to address the learning needs of English learners and their teachers, positioning this population as a technical problem to be solved rather than as a national treasure of linguistic and cultural knowledge that should be guarded, nurtured, and grown.
Goldenberg, C. (2013, Summer). Unlocking the research on English Learners: What we know - and don't yet know - about effective English instruction. American Educator, pp. 4-38.
U.S. Department of Education Draft Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2014-2018, Accessed September 25, 2013: http://www2.ed.gov/about/reports/strat/index.html#draft14
*In a recent report (Summer 2013) Stanford Professor Goldenberg states there is consensus that bilingual education produces superior reading outcomes in English compared with English immersion.
Everyday ELL is now Every Language Learner.