Today (5/14/13), several individuals and groups presented a call to action to the Oregon Education subcommittee at our state’s capitol. Education Northwest, Chalk Board Project, Mano y Mano, David Bautista Assistant State Superintendent of Oregon all presented the startling statistics that many of us have been all too aware of for too long regarding the achievement and well far of our students who are also English Langauge Learners. Approximately 50% of our English Language learners who are identified in grade school will graduate from high school. this is compared to 70% of our white English dominant speaking students. This means that within schools the majority of English Language Learners are falling further and further behind their English dominant peers. This has significant implications for a school system that is also raising the academic bar as they implement the intellectually demanding Common Core Standards. A clear call for human resources requesting an increase in the oFTE ( Full Time Equivalent ) employed at the state level for the purpose of meeting goals of the Statewide Strategic Plan for English Language Learners. This plan adresses the inequities in our system with clear goals around best practice in instruction as well as teacher and administrator support state-wide. Additional calls to action were made around Title III funding and more transparency in how those funds are used. (Note: the late and respected Carmen West, former director of Title III would remind us that Title I is a larger pot of funds and often is also designated to serve the same children and general budget requirements also outline funding priorities for students who are English Language Learner. All three sources should compliment the priorities of each forming seamless support to English Language Learners and all students. Don’t forget Title II! These funds can be used to support specific aspects of implementation of building wide program innovation that can benefit our English Langauge Learners.)
I know that we have the tools and knowledge to support all students to levels of achievement and well being that can empower them to direct their future, develop our communities and change our world. It starts with each teacher, administrator and leaders committing to doing well what we know works and then implementing that systematically in ways that match our communities needs and resources. I was very excited to watch the presentations today at the state department and will look to support the Strategic Plan anyway I can in the work I do. I warily acknowledge as well, that over the past 20 years, I have heard similar pleas, we have had similar opportunities. We did not move to action with the clarity and resolve needed to implement systemic change. Nothing less than decisive action at all levels of schooling and community will be enough to support all students and families towards the empowered and meaningful and multi-lingual community engagement every citizen to secure our future.
Can we afford 50% of all English Langauge Learners to drop out of High School? Higher Education? We need to ask ourselves the questions around the implications of this fact. Our answers should prompt action if not out of compassion and a belief in the interconnectedness of all…out of fear of what our communities and systems will lose with approximately 30,000 with less than a high school diploma. We know how to teach students content and language so they can achieve to the same high levels as grade level peers. We know how to engage parents as partners. We know how to affirm and develop a first language and add a second. Asking what the barriers are to implementing these practices and programs exist and then responding and overcoming stated barriers is the most important challenge facing schools today.