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How do we do ELL well?

The Massachusetts Joint Education Committee chaired by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and Representative Alice Peisch is scheduled to make a decision on a bill that seeks to transform the way English language learners are educated in Massachusetts. Our education system has failed ELLs, and as a result they are currently 1.5 times more likely to drop out than their English-proficient peers. In 2011, the Federal Department of Justice ruled that, by failing to provide adequate learning environments for ELLs, Massachusetts was violating the civil rights of ELL students. To this day, the Massachusetts education system fails to provide these students with the resources they need to succeed, and by doing this, Massachusetts is continuing to deny ELLs—who make up 7.7 percent of students in our state — their basic civil rights.

Massachusetts voters passed the English Language Education in Public Schools Initiative, also known as Question2 in 2002. The initiative outlined a system in which ELL students would be completely immersed in basic English instruction for a year before being integrated with their peers. This sounded like a great idea to many at first. However, the law resulted in the elimination of many bilingual programs and, in some cases, English as a Second Language (ESL) programs. ELL students ended up segregated in urban districts or thrown into regular classrooms without language instruction, supported only by tutors classified for special education services. ELL students were expected to pick up academic English from the routines or social environment of their classrooms, not from explicit and direct instruction by licensed ESL teachers.

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