Beyond Bilingual Education: Immigrant Students and the No Child Left Behind Act

Robert Capriccioso
December 7, 2004

CFK reports from: The Urban Institute
Event: panel discussion on bilingual education
Organized by: Urban
Where/When: Washington, D.C., December 7, 2004

At this panel discussion, a group of researchers and policymakers discussed the implications for English Language Learners (ELLs) and the schools they attend under the rules of the 2002 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

Randy Capps, an immigrant population researcher at Urban, spoke about the pressing need for schools to meet NCLB requirements and the difficulties for school districts with large numbers of immigrant students to do so.

Currently working on a study of NCLB implications for children of immigrants and limited English speakers in public schools, Capps said that one-fifth of students in all U.S. schools now fit that definition, and one-third of these children have parents with less than a high school education. Capps reported that these students tend to be highly segregated and one-half of all ELLs go to schools where 30 percent of the student body is also made up of ELLs.

All American students are required to be tested for reading comprehension under NCLB requirements. When a school does not meet “Adequate Yearly Progress” standards for two years, parents of all students at the schools can choose to transfer their children to better-performing schools. Many schools with large number of ELLs are having difficulties meeting the standards.

Alec Ian Gershberg, an education economist at the World Bank, made the point that there are economic costs to not having effective immigrant education. “How public schools teach newcomers has a direct impact on the social and economic health of the U.S.,” he said.

Kathleen Leos, an associate undersecretary and a senior policy advisor with the U.S. Department of Education, reminded the audience that before NCLB was enacted, much less was known about the number of ELLs in the country and what their specific needs were. “No Child Left Behind brought the kids to the forefront,” she said.

Leos reported that ongoing research on ELLs will eventually lead to new curricula that will help schools teach to the needs of such students. She predicted that teachers will teach much differently in three years. She also indicated that preliminary research shows two-way dual language emersion programs tend to work best with ELLs – more research will be released in summer 2005.