Thursday, June 29, 2006

English learning thrives in Middle Tennessee

The City Paper reported in this article last week that 25% of students learning English as a second language in Tennessee are in the Nashville school district.

"Metro Nashville Public Schools educates 25 percent of the ELL students in the state - the most of any other district."

"More than 5,000 of the school district’s 72,000 students are in the regular ELL program. Another 2,000 are in transitional phases totaling nearly 10 percent of total enrollment district-wide."

"In the 2005-06 school year, Metro Schools educated students from 83 countries who spoke 78 languages." (Nashville's linguistic diversity was featured in this story in June 2004.)

Statewide, the number of English learners in Tennessee schools was 2.1% in 2004, up from 1.4% in 2001 (story here). Hispanic students made up 3.2% of the student body state-wide.

Approximately 1,000 students per year are reclassified from English learning to English speaking in Nashville.

"'It’s amazing the progress we’re making with what we have,' [Metro Schools ELL director Susan] Howell said."

The success of Middle Tennessee's ELL programs was previously reported in this story in December 2005, and in this story in August 2004, in which Metro reported more than double the typical success rate of graduating students from the ELL program.

ESL and ELL classes are credited with improving classroom concentration in Nashville, because students who have language difficulties are no longer asking friends to interpret for them in class (story here). According to the same story, ESL and ELL teaching requires special teaching methods but not necessarily communication in the students' native languages.

While Nashville students who live in areas with low concentrations of English language learners are bused to their English classes, some remote areas beyond Nashville are starting their own classes instead of depending on larger neighboring cities. According to this article in the Tennessean, Fairview in Williamson County has started an English Language Learner summer school.

"Although Fairview is not known as a culturally diverse community, the class reveals great diversity with students speaking Chinese and Spanish, and one student who formerly lived in the Ukraine."

"According to the instructors, the students thrive in a more relaxed environment like summer school. The teachers even see a lot of the parents bonding, too."

In addition to language instruction, Fairview's ELL program incorporates social and cultural learning, which is a strategy supported by business groups like the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce (story here).

The City Paper's article last week also touched on the cost of English learning:

"Wednesday, [Governor Phil] Bredesen signed the state’s appropriations bill for the next fiscal year. While state legislators added $35 million for 'at-risk' and ELL students, only $2 million is earmarked for ELL."

In February 2005, Governor Bredesen promised an $11 million increase in spending for "at risk" and ELL students (story here). The City Paper article does not mention how the $35 million number relates to the promised $11 million increase, but it does give the current Nashville ELL budget: $14.5 million.

Middle Tennessee benefits from federal grants in some instances. The Fairview ELL summer school program is funded by a Title III grant. Two Middle Tennessee school systems benefit from funds awarded under the federal Emergency Immigrant Education Program (story here).

Some of the federal funding contributes to the integration of refugees such as the Somali students who replaced Latino children as the most visible minority at Cora Howe Elementary last September (story here).

Focus: Education

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