SEARAC Welcomes New Guidance to Ensure English Learners Meaningfully Participate in Schools

Jan 14 SEARAC Welcomes New Guidance to Ensure English Learners Meaningfully Participate in Schools

For the first time in 25 years, the US Department of Education, joined by the Department of Justice, released guidance to ensure English learner (EL) students can “meaningfully participate” and succeed in schools.  SEARAC applauds the release of this guidance, which will hold states and school districts accountable to providing legally required resources to more than five million EL students across the country, and will ensure legal repercussions for states/school districts that violate the legal rights of EL students and their families.  This guidance will have a significant impact on many Southeast Asian American (SEAA) students and families, as the top five languages spoken by EL students nationwide include two Southeast Asian languages: Vietnamese and Hmong.

English learners, who comprise 10.7% of the total pre-K-12 student population and include many SEAA students, can be found in classrooms throughout the United States. In fact, SEAA languages were ranked among the top five most commonly spoken languages by EL students in 35 states during the 2012-13 school year. Our work with local partners demonstrates that many states are ill-equipped to meet the needs of all ELs. For example, in the state of Washington, the Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA) found that in 2012, 26% of EL students dropped out of school, compared to 14% statewide (WA Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction). In New Orleans, the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association (VAYLA) surveyed EL students in six charter high schools and found that 69.5% of those students felt they were not enrolled in an EL class appropriate for their level of language development.  Ac

We appreciate the administration’s commitment to the civil rights protections of EL students through the release of this guidance.  Of particular note, the guidance provides a comprehensive summary of:

  • Legal obligations that states and schools districts have towards both EL students and families with limited English proficiency,
  • Specific and clear examples of compliance and non-compliance to those obligations,
  • Strong recommendations for how schools should evaluate the effectiveness of their EL programs with multiple measures of student success,
  • Unequivocal affirmation that EL students are still required to receive appropriate accommodations and instruction from regular classroom teachers, regardless of whether or not they enroll in EL programs, and
  • Clarity around what resources and services limited English proficient families should expect.

While we applaud the clarification of these obligations and believe such measures, if implemented and enforced, will support the success of EL students, we still have some concerns not addressed by the guidance.  These include highly qualified teacher training and continuing professional development, transparency on the effectiveness of EL programs, and making these resources more accessible to the families most impacted by this guidance.  The departments can help make the effectiveness of EL programs more transparent and support students’ “meaningful participation” in school by:

  • Improving data collection and requiring public reporting of such information,
  • Setting standards for highly qualified teacher requirements to include training for addressing the needs of EL students, diverse populations, and their families,
  • Monitoring that ongoing professional development and certifications for EL instruction are rigorous,
  • Making resources more accessible and family friendly, and
  • Elucidating the process for students and families to resolve compliance issues at the local, state, and federal level.

SEARAC praises this recent guidance from the Department of Education and the Department of Justice for standing up for the civil rights of EL students and their families.  We hope that the guidance allows us, as a nation, to shine a light on schools and districts that serve EL students with great integrity, and provide legal recourse for students and families when schools violate the rights that our EL communities rightfully and legally deserve. 

The guidance and other resources for parents translated in Cambodian, Hmong, Lao, and Vietnamese can be found here:

Dept. of Justice and Education Guidance and supporting documents
Dept. of Justice and Education Complaint and instruction forms

Resources from SEARAC and partners:

SEARAC Fact Sheet on English Language Learners
VAYLA – New Orleans survey
OSPI High School Graduation/Drop Out Report 2011 – 2012