Feds announce English learner professional development grant

Feds announce English learner professional development grant

(District of Columbia) More than 11,000 current and incoming teachers will have access to professional development funding to help them better support English learners under a federal grant announced last week.

U.S. Department of Education officials said they will award $20 million in grants under the National Professional Development Program to support 1,796 pre-service teachers and 9,731 current classroom teachers throughout the country.

“Our English learner students represent an incredible asset for our country, yet they also face unique challenges,” Jose A.Viana, assistant deputy secretary of the Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition, said in a statement. “We need to keep shining the spotlight on them and building our capacity to better serve and teach them. With this funding, we continue to deliver on our promise of equity, excellence and opportunity in supporting educators, students and families across the country.”

About 10 percent of public school students in the country is classified as an English learner, according to federal education data. The vast majority—approximately 3.8 million students—speak Spanish, but children are increasingly enrolling in school already speaking Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese or Arabic at home, among other languages.

A 2015 study released by the U.S. Education Department showed a widespread need for policies that help educators accurately recognize if a child’s academic progress is being hindered by learning disabilities or English language acquisition. Authors of the report noted that misidentified students can end up in classrooms or programs mismatched to their needs, which could hamper their educational achievement.

Researchers recommended improved professional development that gives educators a deeper understanding of how a student’s cultural background may influence behavior, the typical and atypical language and literacy characteristics of English learner students, and how best to communicate and interact with parents.

The recently announced professional development grants will allow “eligible institutions of higher education and public or private entities with relevant experience and capacity” to implement professional development activities focusing on teacher education programs that lead to certification, licensing, or endorsement for providing instruction to English learners. Administrators, paraprofessionals or other educators working with English learners would also be eligible to participate.

Data from the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics shows that in 2016, 32 states reported not having enough teachers trained to work with students learning English.

Lawmakers demonstrated in developing the Every Student Succeeds Act that improving the academic performance of English learners should be on the forefront of national education law in order to improve graduation rates among this subgroup and close achievement gaps.

Federal data shows that only 63 percent of English learners graduate from high school, compared with the overall national rate of 82 percent. And fewer than 2 percent of those who do graduate take either the SAT or ACT college entrance exams.

Under ESSA, English learner accountability is included as part of Title I–the section dedicated to the performance of students–instead of Title III, which dictates the allocation of funds for English language acquisition, as it was under No Child Left Behind.

Although schools were already held accountable for demonstrating these students’ academic growth under No Child Left Behind, advocates said the move to Title I emphasizes English learners as a priority. In the 2015 fiscal year, Congress approved $737 million for Title III, compared to $14.5 billion for Title I.