Alaska sees decline in English-language learning students

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Jan 8 14:35:23 UTC 2009

Alaska sees decline in English-language learning students
By Christi Hang

Published Wednesday, January 7, 2009

FAIRBANKS — The number of English-language learning students in the
nation rose from 3.2 million during the 1995-1996 school year to 5.1
million in the 2005-2006 school year. But Alaska was one of only eight
states that saw a decline in ELL students. "Portrait of a Population:
How English-Language Learners Are Putting Schools to the Test,"
released by Editorial Projects in Education, looked at ELL education
in the nation and compared different components such as students'
chances for success, instruction and transition. In a closer look at
Alaska, the report showed the state also bucked another national
trend. Alaska spent more on ELL education than the national average.

The funding for ELL education comes from three sources, said Patricia
Adkisson, Title III program manager for the state. Foundations formula
funding provides money for school programs such as gifted and talented
and vocational training. There also is regular funding from the state
and Title III federal funding. Title III federal funds come from a
branch of the No Child Left Behind program that is reserved for
English language instruction. The state has more than 18,000 ELL
students, the report found. Adkisson said Anchorage schools have the
largest number of ELL students in the state because of the amount of
families that immigrate to the city from other countries and from
states in the Lower 48.

Nationally, the most common language spoken by ELL students is Spanish
followed by Vietnamese and Chinese. In Alaska, Spanish also tops the
list, but it is followed by Yupik and Inupiaq. Adkisson said the state
faces some unique situations such as a diversity of indigenous
languages and the distance between school districts. In the districts,
administrators can design their own ELL program to best suit their
schools and student population needs. The state ranked last in the
nation in the teaching profession category. The category looked at
issues related to instructors including out-of-subject teaching,
working conditions, teacher education programs and salaries.

Adkisson said it is not uncommon for school districts to try to
incorporate ELL students into classrooms with non-ELL students, so
teachers must be able to teach both groups in the same room. There is
unpredictability in the situation, and districts face the challenge of
providing extra services while trying to find a way to incorporate ELL
students into non-ELL classrooms. "Each district has its own
challenges," she said. "This is a large and diverse state."  To help
prepare teachers, the state provides extra professional development
for classroom teachers, and some districts have a "newcomers' center,"
which is a classroom where ELL students work intensely on learning
English. Adkisson said there is a difference between English as a
second language programs and ELL programs. ESL is a term used for
students whose first language is not English. ELL can apply to any
students with weak English language basics.

Alaska earned a "C" overall when it came to ELL instruction; the
national average also was a C. In 20 states, the number of ELL
students at least doubled between the 1995-1996 and 2005-2006 school
years with the number quadrupling in Arkansas, Indiana, North Carolina
and South Carolina. Those four states were among the fastest growing,
but another 13 states, mainly in the Southwest, saw a 200 percent
increase in the number of ELL students. Nationally, 68 percent of ELL
students ages 5 to 17 were Hispanic, and 54 percent of ELL students
were born in Mexico. The next largest groups were non-Hispanic whites,
which accounted for 14 percent of ELL students, and Asian or Pacific
Islanders with 13 percent.

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