Saturday, November 20, 2010

Educating our refugee and ELL students

      I recently read an article from the Brookings Institution, which cited some rather pertinent information that I would like to share with you.  According to 2004 data from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, "Of the 10 countries that carry out resettlement programs, the United States accepts more than double the number of refugees accepted by the other nine countries combined, resettling approximately 2.5 million people since 1975." While I was working in resettlement in 2007, the U.S. government increased the annual refugee cap from 60-70,000. Under the Presidential Determination for Refugee Admissions, the Obama administration has likewise authorized an increase in the cap on annual refugee admissions, offering resettlement during the 2011 fiscal year to 80,000 refugees. Setting politics aside, all the data which I have read thus far indicates a continued increase in the number of refugee students school districts will serve in the years to come. So, how are U.S. schools fairing at present with the education of the nation's K-12 English language learners [ELLs]?
     According to the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy, of the 49.9 millions students enrolled in the 2007-2008 school year, just under 11 percent were English language learners.  In the state of California the number of ELLs in 2008 outnumbered the combined total of the five other states whose ELL populations rank highest in the nation: Texas (701,799), Florida (234,934), New York (213,000), Illinois (175,454) and Arizona (166,572). The NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] reported in 2009 only 12 percent of 4th grade ELLs were at or above proficient in math, compared to 42 percent of non-ELL students. The scores were even worse for 8th grade Ells with a mere 6 percent at or above proficient in math, compared to 38 percent of non-ELL students. In my own state, Texas, ELLs graduated from high school at significantly lower percentages than there counterparts, 39 percent v. 78 percent.  
     It should come as no surprise that the needs of our refugee students are not being met, especially when some schools are still sitting refugee students in a corner with a few crayons or markers for entertainment, rather than attempting to educate them.  I personally find such notions incomprehensible! As incoming refugee populations are being spread out from major cities and resettled in less urban areas, perhaps we need to form some type of staff development program that will break down barriers and give teachers the tools they need to assist this particular ELL population.  
    I would love to hear how others are meeting the needs of refugee students in their schools! What do you think or what are you doing in your local school?