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TESOL calls for US$1 billion funding while US struggles to teach ELLs in lockdown

In April 2020, 40 US educational bodies, including TESOL International Association, wrote to congressional leaders asking for an additional US$1 billion in funding for English Language Learners.

“As the reach of Covid-19 continues to grow, we are seeing increased need for support of English Learner students,” they wrote in a letter urging Congress to support moves to provide the supplemental funding, “in the next relief package, to help ensure that states and districts have the necessary resources to address the unique needs of our students.”

With state schools across the US still in coronavirus lockdown, home schooling for the nation’s estimated 4.9 million school students designated English Language Learners (ELLs) has proved challenging. The coronavirus crisis has even prompted a class action lawsuit against the state of New Mexico, asserting that the state is failing in its constitutional duty to “provide a sufficient education” for its students.

The new case calls for oversight of the court judgement in the 2018 Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit, which resulted in a ruling that the state violated the rights of English Language Learners. In March this year, the state of New Mexico filed a request to the court, seeking to dismiss the case.

The suit calls on the court to compel the state to produce a plan to urgently “overhaul” New Mexico’s education system. Plaintiffs, including many from the Navajo Nation, allege “the state’s lack of action has been laid bare by the Covid-19 crisis, which has further aggravated the deep and ongoing educational inequalities across New Mexico.”

School districts nationwide report that ELLs and their parents struggle with home schooling. Many parents lack the English needed to follow instructions for lesson plans. They are also less likely to have a suitable internet- capable device or internet access. Immigrant parents are significantly more likely to be in work they can’t do from home, meaning they can’t supervise school work.

In Minford, Ohio, teachers went out early in the lockdown to deliver printed teaching materials

and laptops (and in some cases food parcels) to ELL students. Los Angeles was reportedly seeking to get “digital devices” to 100,000 of its students. Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida had by mid-April distributed 80,000 mobile devices to students.

Janice Jackson, CEO of the City of Chicago’s public schools, with 67,000 ELLs, told National Public Radio that they had ensured their “remote learning plan” included guidance for ELL parents and students, and “we trained our teachers around that.”

Oakland Unified School District, where 33 per cent of students are ELLs, said their first priority when the lockdown came was contacting students to find out who had devices and internet access at home. Finding that parents struggled with using English-language materials, the school board has since published learning resources in Spanish, Chinese, Khmer and Arabic.

A teacher in Cleveland reported spending two full days a week on the phone speaking to parents, with the help of Somali, Swahili and Spanish-speaking colleagues. Meanwhile, in Nebraska, a radio station has been started to broadcast classes in Spanish.

The New York Times in April interviewed Zainab Alomari, from Yemen, as she tried – with only a few words of English – to educate her six children in Oakland, California. She relied on her oldest daughter to interpret, or used Google Translate. Alomari told NYT “I’m doing my best… But I don’t know if this is going to affect their learning.”

Image courtesy of SHUTTERSTOCK
Matt Salusbury
Matt Salusbury
MATT SALUSBURY, news editor and journalist, has worked for EL Gazette since 2007. He is also joint Chair of the London Freelance Branch of the National Union of Journalists and co-edits its newsletter, the Freelance. He taught English language for 15 years in the Netherlands, in Turkey, in a North London further education college and now as an English for Academic Purposes tutor, most recently at the London School of Economics. He is a native English speaker and is also fluent in Dutch.
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