- Better data collection and resources for schools serving "newcomers" — students who are new to the U.S and who may or may not speak English — are being planned, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of English Language Acquisition said in a recent letter to a leader of a coalition of educators, researchers and advocacy organizations.
- About 80 representatives of the coalition wrote to the Education Department in August with recommendations they said would better serve newcomer students and their educators. The coalition said current curricula, professional development, data, funding and guidance for newcomer education are lacking.
- Coalition members and others are calling for more attention and support for this student population as schools and communities experience an increase in English learner populations, along with recent arrivals of refugee and unaccompanied children. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 108,000 unaccompanied children were released to sponsors between Oct. 1, 2021, and July 2022.
The Education Department's Oct. 21 letter, signed by Montserrat Garibay, acting assistant deputy secretary and director of OELA, acknowledges that challenges remain regarding data definitions and curriculum for newcomer students. The department, however, is prohibited from dictating certain curriculum in schools, Garibay noted.
While the department collects information on students who meet the definition of "immigrant" under the department's Title III, Part A grant program, up-to-date information is not currently available in a public format. The department plans to add state-level data to its ED Data Express website later this year for the 2020-21 school year, Garibay's letter said.
A Biennial Report to Congress on Title III, published in October 2021, contains 2016-2018 data. For the 2017-18 school year, the number of immigrant students approached 1 million.
The Education Department’s letter outlined other moves planned or taken. For instance, the department said it is revising its Newcomer Toolkit, which was last updated in 2017. OELA also hosted an Aug. 12 webinar on registering and enrolling refugee and immigrant students in secondary schools.
Sam Finn, a senior policy consultant for the Oakland Unified School District in California and former teacher who has researched newcomer student issues, is helping to lead the coalition of professionals and advocates on behalf of newcomer students and their families and educators. Garibay's letter was addressed to Finn.
Overall, Finn said, the Education Department's letter responding to the coalition's concerns fell flat. The letter didn't directly respond to their recommendations, including one to create a separate data point for newcomers separate from those for immigrants and students identified as English learners, he said.
“They do not engage with the fact that newcomers are hurt by an absence from standard data systems as a distinct subgroup. Newcomers are inadequately educated in part because they are lumped in with the much larger 'English learner' group, in which the average student actually speaks functional English," Finn said.
Additionally, Finn said the letter did not address or offer a solution to concerns over inadequate instructional resources for teachers of newcomers.
"Rather than responding to a call for leadership and support, with plans for leadership and support, the letter largely lists things that the department is already doing that the field did not find adequate to support their needs," he said.
Finn, however, said he was encouraged by two things: the department's offer to consider holding a gathering for those working to improve newcomer student services, and its willingness to look into increasing research around this population of students.
"If they do act on those, then [our] letter will have been a success," Finn said.