February 24, 2014
Immigrant English Language Learner Students Highlight DCPS Failings
Washington, DC – Local immigrant English Language Learner (ELL) students from area public and public charter high schools, including Coolidge, Wilson, Capital City and others, sent a powerful message to DCPS through a dynamic public demonstration today.
Starting at 4 PM today, members of the multi-lingual DC-based activist youth group SMART (Student Multiethnic Action Research Team) along with other DCPS and DCPCS youth staged a demonstration using plastic drums, chants, posters and dancing in Tivoli Square in Columbia Heights [14th & Park Rd NW]. This public action builds on a Twitter campaign that the youth launched on Valentine’s Day.
According to Franck Vincent, a native French speaker from Cameroon and one of the youth leaders of SMART, “We are broken hearted because 1 out of 2 ELL students are dropping out of high school. DCPS is not providing us with enough bilingual counselors so immigrant students don’t have the same opportunity for success.” Franck is correct – half of DCPS’s ELL student population is dropping out. Additionally, according to a report by NPR on the Nation’s Report Card, while D.C. showed the most improvement in reading and math in the nation, this was true “among all subgroups such as race, income and special education — except for English Language learners.”
Guidance counselors are just one of the things that the group today highlighted as contributing to the 50% drop out rate among ELL students in DC. They are also demanding other supports that the DCPS budget is supposed to provide for, including interpretation when their parents come for Parent-Teacher conferences, and more teacher training and support for teachers who have ELL students in their classrooms.
Currently, one out of ten students enrolled in DCPS are classified as ELL, and an even larger proportion are what DCPS calls “Linguistically and Culturally Diverse” or “LCD” – LCD students often come from families where their primary caretaker does not speak English as a primary language. This language barrier limits parents and guardians from engaging with their child’s teachers without interpretation and translation services, a resource that schools are actually mandated to provide under the DC Language Access Act of 2004.
Paola Perez Amador, a native Spanish speaker from Mexico and another youth leader that participated in the demonstration today stated, “No todos los maestros de ELL están capacitados para enseñarle a los estudiantes de ELL o usar los recursos como los interpretes por teléfono en Language Line. Ellos quieren mas entranimineto tambien” (“Not all of the teachers that teach ELL students are sufficiently trained to teach ELL students or use resources like the telephonic interpreters on Language Line. They want more training too.”)
The members of SMART, who are supported and trained by DC-based non-profit Many Languages One Voice to understand the root causes of immigrant youth education disparities, and advocate on their own behalf, have launched their own peer-based student survey to further investigate the reasons for the alarming ELL drop-out rate in DC. They will release the findings in a report at the start of the 2014-2015 school year. The youth have developed an ELL Student Bill of Rights and list of ELL Student Solutions which provide data-driven recommendations based in their own experiences. SMART hopes for greater opportunity to share these recommendations with decision-makers, and for room at the decision-making table for greater student voice. Chancellor Henderson recently launched a Parent Cabinet and task force to study student testing, but DCPS did not include a call for students to join these bodies.
In addition to public demonstrations such as the one that the youth organized today, SMART testifies at public oversight hearings and budget hearings of the DC City Council. Particularly given that this is an election year and the 2015 budget is currently being set, SMART youth join other advocacy groups and policy research institutions to demand DC government enforce Title III[i] and the DC Language Access Act of 2004[ii], and provide transparency around spending for ELL needs under the approved DCPS budget[iii].
For more information about the specific issues facing ELL students and how SMART and MLOV is organizing for greater education equity, please contact Maria Alejandra, Lead Education Organizer at MLOV firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-470-6835.