In the midst of federal budget discussions, the field of education has been targeted with large cuts that affect the stability of the teaching profession. Today, teachers are penalized for neither closing the achievement gap nor preparing students to be able to compete globally. Although teacher requirements and preparation varies across the nation, most states continually fail to adequately prepare teachers to educate Americans, in particular vulnerable populations like English Language Learner (ELL) students. As the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) moves forward, we need to ensure that the needs of ELLs and their teachers take priority. Legislators must add provisions requiring general education teachers to earn specific credentials and participate in professional development to advance both linguistic and academic proficiency for ELL students. The academic success of ELL students is in the best interest of the United States, both economically and in terms of equity in education. If we continue to overlook 25 percent of our student population, neglect their need for a quality education and well-trained teachers, the outcome can only be one of an uneducated and unprepared workforce.
The Civil Rights Movement and War on Poverty of the 1960s provided the political context for passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. This was a period when educational inequity became a national concern. The primary purpose of ESEA was to help schools better serve the “special educational needs of educationally deprived children” (Crawford 2011). Over time and with the reauthorization of this legislation in 2002 (also referred to as the No Child Left Behind Act), the law’s focus expanded to include numerous other objectives, such as ensuring that educators are highly qualified and increasing accountability approach to reward and sanction educators. Under the administration of President George W. Bush (2001), this law was reauthorized. This new version of the legislation expanded the federal role in education and took particular aim at improving the educational realities of disadvantaged students. At the core of the ESEA reauthorization legislation were a number of measures and mandates designed to drive broad gains in student achievement and to hold states and their schools accountable for student progress (Kirst and Wirt 2009, 294-297).
Since last reauthorized, this law revealed significant educational disparities among students of color, low-income students, migrant students, students with disabilities and English Language Learners (ELLs). However, the mandates of this law have not improved the conditions of these students attending public schools. Many components of ESEA present unrealistic expectations. For instance, the expectation that ELL students are to achieve content knowledge before they master the English language is problematic not only for the student but also for the teacher.
High quality and effective education through prepared teachers should be afforded to all students. In October 2011, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) agreed to improvements in the way it teaches English Language Learners after a 19-month investigation by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. The investigation found that 30 percent of students were denied equal educational opportunities by denying ELLs access to core academic classes required to graduate and enroll in college or job training programs. One factor that contributed to this inequity is the large number of unprepared teachers designated to teach ELL students (Department of Education 2011). One of the ways in which the LAUSD case was resolved was to provide professional development to improve the quality of teachers of English Language Learners. However, the nation should not wait until school districts violate the rights of these students in order to provide them with well-qualified instructors and equal education (U.S Department of Education 2011). As the reauthorization of ESEA moves forward, we need to ensure that the needs of ELLs and their teachers take priority and effectively addressed. The academic achievement of this group of students will contribute to the success of the United States economy by providing a fast growing and well-educated labor force.
Moreover it is necessary to highlight the importance of funding within ESEA. Titles II and III of ESEA specifically authorize programs that provide funding and management support for professional development of general education teachers and those who teach ELLs. This article will address the complexities of funding and developing programs for teachers of ELLs as well as address alternatives to improve the training of teachers in this field while simultaneously improving ELLs’ academic achievements.