On Jan. 7, Education Week released its 13th annual Quality Counts report, "Portrait of a Population: How English-Language Learners are Putting Schools to the Test." The report used in-depth journalism and multiple data sources to investigate and present conclusions on the diverse and growing English language learner (ELL) population in the U.S. Education Week's Virginia Edwards welcomed the audience to the event and noted that Quality Counts 2009 contains data, journalistic research and explanatory articles on the growing population of ELLs in the United States. Christopher Swanson and Amy Hightower, with the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, highlighted the content of the report, including a portrait of this diverse population and the academic challenges these students present to public schools. Also discussed in the report is the role of certified English-as-a-second-language (ESL) teachers, the assessment and accountability standards for ELLs and state funding for ELL programs.
The event included a panel discussion with Ana Sol Gutierrez, a Maryland House Delegate; Kris Gutierrez with the University of California, Los Angeles (also on the Obama Education Policy Transition Team); Maria Santos with the New York City Department of Education; and Deborah Short with the Center for Applied Linguistics. The panelists discussed the greatest challenges facing ELLs in the United States, with the consensus that these students do not receive enough attention from policy makers. Citing their experiences with even high-quality public school systems failing ELLs, panelists believe the public education system has yet to fully embrace and adapt to these students. The topic of the panelists' Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization "wish list" arose, which included required ELL training for all teachers in a district with ELLs, five- and six- year high school graduation plans, a language threshold test administered before NAEP tests and federal guidelines for funding ELL programs in states. Of special note are Gutierrez' recommendations because of her role on the Education Policy Presidential Transition Team. Specifically, she asserted that ESEA reauthorization should yield a national definition of ELLs, longitudinal tracking data for ELLs and allowance of native language academic achievement tests, where appropriate.