- The author of a new Century Foundation report argues English learners deserve more federal funding and would benefit from federal policies that shift education from English-only to bilingual and biliterate models. English learners make up more than 10% of the U.S. student population.
- In the report, Conor Williams, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, recommends tripling the annual Title III funding for ELs from about $740 million to $2.2 billion, which would amount to about $440 in annual per-pupil funding for ELs. He also suggests collecting more accurate data on ELs’ language and academic development and supporting EL early education.
- “Too often, states and school districts have treated ELs’ linguistic diversity as an obstacle or liability to be overcome,” Williams wrote. “The nation needs a more equitable, ‘English-plus’ approach to supporting ELs, beginning with systemic recognition that their home languages are considerable strengths to be developed.”
As Williams indicated in the report, bilingualism can serve as a future professional advantage for students. And according to a blog from American University School of Education, bilingual students are also known to communicate with a higher level of literacy and develop an awareness of how languages work, aiding in later language acquisition.
The San Antonio Independent School District in Texas is among school systems that have recognized this, having implemented an 80-20 immersion model for emergent bilingual students. The model not only aims to create more educational equity for bilingual students, but also ensures native Spanish-speakers retain their original language foundation.
The 80-20 model starts with a mix of 80% Spanish and 20% English in pre-K, then progressively adds more English every year until 4th grade, when the mix becomes 50-50. The program is intended to prevent Spanish-speaking students from falling behind in other disciplines such as reading and writing.
The pandemic put ELs at a disadvantage nationwide, further supporting the case to increase federal funding. Many English learners fell behind during the difficult learning conditions required by social distancing. In a survey conducted by ESL resource provider Off2Class, 40% of global EL educator respondents suggested some students should have been held back to repeat a grade due to pandemic-related learning delays.
One of the issues cited by respondents was students’ difficulty with pronunciation, as students typically learn to pronounce words by mimicking mouth movements, which can be more difficult to discern online.