English-learning students need our help: Delaware Voices

November 7, 2017

All Delaware children deserve the opportunity to find their own place in the world — in their communities and in their schools. For this to happen, we must all recognize the potential in every child, including the more than 10,000 English learners, who represent by far the fastest growing student demographic in Delaware. Over the last 10 years, Delaware has experienced a statewide increase of over 400 percent in the number of English learner students — including nearly 600-percent growth in Sussex County. Christine Cannon is executive director of the Arsht-Cannon Christine Cannon is executive director of the Arsht-Cannon Fund. (Photo: Submitted) But in many ways, we are letting these children down. These students not only face a language barrier but often have unique social and emotional challenges and come from low-income homes, creating more challenges for them to obtain a higher education and eventually a pathway to a successful career. We represent community groups who are fighting to bring EL students and families the resources they need to thrive in Delaware and beyond. Together, we are proud to unveil a series of five English learner fact sheets that we hope will illuminate the diverse and vibrant EL community, and the critical issues facing its students. Delaware is one of only four states that does not provide additional education funding for English learners, meaning districts and charters must cobble together other funding to meet legal requirements for serving them. In other words, a school with 100 EL students receives the same additional state funding as a school with 10 EL students — $0. Dedicated funds for EL students could help districts and charters provide a wide array of services, including hiring additional certified instructors. Over the next several months, we will release five fact sheets. In them, we will investigate a school year in the life of an English learner, how the education system is serving them, what we can do to better meet their needs, and what might happen if the state doesn’t make an investment. These fact sheets blend state and national-level data with infographics and anecdotes in hopes of raising awareness about Delaware’s EL community while myth-busting common misconceptions. Besides representing the state’s fastest-growing student demographic, EL students are primarily native-born Americans (around 75 percent), are highly concentrated in early grades, and speak nearly 100 native languages. Our schools and our educators are working hard to support ELs. But ultimately, these children are everyone’s responsibility, and the fact remains that additional resources are needed to deliver quality education to EL students. If we aim to equitably and effectively educate every English learner student in Delaware’s public schools, we need first to equip our leaders and community members with the right information. We hope these fact sheets contribute to the broader conversation on equity in our state. It is heartbreaking to know that so many of our youngest Delawareans sit in the back of the classroom without the support needed to learn. Many of these students are left struggling without the foundational skills of reading and writing, and the resulting lifelong consequences to health, educational advancement, and economic status. Like much of the U.S., EL students are young people who have come from other countries and are simply looking to contribute. As our economy becomes increasingly global, they are a valuable asset to our schools and the state as a whole. We know ELs who have mastered English and gone on to be top of their graduating class; but we also know ELs who struggle to adjust and sit in the back of the room without necessary, personalized supports. Let’s roll up our sleeves and make ELs quality education a priority. Let’s build upon the progress on what has worked and continues to work in supporting ELs. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act includes major new requirements aimed at closing the EL achievement gap, including reporting and goal-setting that recognize the needs and diversity of ELs. And the state is celebrating multi-literacy in Delaware schools with a new award that recognizes and honors high school students who have attained a high level of proficiency in one or more languages in addition to English. Additional state funding for ELs would truly make a big difference. Find Fact Sheet No. 1, “Who Are English Learners in Delaware’s Schools?” online at bit.ly/ELsInDE, along with additional information and resources about the state’s EL student population. Javier Torrijos is chair of the Delaware Hispanic Commission. Christine Cannon is the executive director of the Arsht-Cannon Fund. Oribel McFann-Mora is president of Delaware English Language Learners Teachers and Advocates (DELLTA). Paul Herdman is president and CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware. Link: Delaware Online