- A group of educators, researchers and advocacy organizations is asking the U.S. Department of Education to develop resources and supports for students new to the U.S. who are English learners known as newcomer students, according to a letter sent to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Aug. 31.
- Among the requests are common data collection definitions, curriculum resources, professional development and a national conference that would build awareness and collaboration to provide supports for newcomer students.
- While the Education Department has issued various guidance and resource documents over the past several years regarding the education of newcomer students, the 80 letter signers said more practical and organizational information is needed to best meet these students' needs.
One challenge to the field of newcomer education is that there's not a standard definition of a newcomer student for purposes of accountability, research and resources, the letter said.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, for purposes of Title III grant allocations, defines "immigrant children and youth" as individuals ages 3-21 who were not born in any U.S. state and have not been attending schools in one or more states for more than three full academic years.
The California Department of Education identifies newcomer students as an umbrella term for foreign-born students who have recently arrived in the United States. These students may be "asylees, refugees, unaccompanied youth, undocumented youth, migratory students, and other immigrant children and youth" identified by districts, the state education department's website said.
Additionally, the California Department of Education, which was one of the letter signers, said newcomer students come from many different countries and diverse cultural backgrounds. They also enter U.S. schools with various levels of educational experiences and speak a variety of languages, which may or may not include English.
Sam Finn, a senior policy consultant for the Oakland Unified School District in California and former teacher who has researched newcomer students, said there are about 1 million Title III immigrant students nationally year-to-year and between 150,000 and 200,000 in California.
"We are at a moment of incredible opportunity for newcomer students and the nation," said Finn, who helped craft the letter to Cardona. "There is probably more room for growth here than any other area of education, if only because the larger education establishment hasn't really given the field proper investment and consideration in the past."
The letter also said newcomer students and their teachers need curricular resources and professional development. Specifically, Finn said educators need the scope and sequences for teaching the foundational skills of English to students who enter U.S. schools without knowing the language and with interrupted formal education.
The letter suggests the Education Department's Office of English Language Acquisition spearhead efforts to prioritize this work through grants and guidance. Among the signers are the National Parent Teachers Association, the National Education Association, TESOL International Association and The Education Trust.
President Joe Biden's FY 2023 budget proposal seeks $1.075 billion for the department's English Language Acquisition program, which would be $278 million or a 35% increase above the FY 2021 allocation. The budget proposal said the requested increase would support state and local capacity to meet the needs of English learners and their teachers, including through a "greater emphasis on multilingualism that embraces students’ native and home languages as a strength they bring to their school communities."
The letter to Cardona also suggests the department convene a national newcomer gathering for educators, administrators, researchers and nonprofit leaders. In California, Oakland Unified, along with Californians Together and Policy Analysis for California Education are hosting a two-day convening in December regarding newcomer education strategy and collaboration. The event is expected to have participation from about 70 stakeholders, including state government representatives and district leaders.
"Too many newcomers do not have access to education, not in a functional way," Finn said. "Part of this shift is expanding our moral circle and conception within the field of who we teach and how we teach."