Throughout my career I have advocated for effective policies to improve the academic performance of limited English proficient students in Massachusetts schools. Our schools claim some of the highest achievement rates in the nation as measured by the MCAS, and yet our schools are also strained by one the largest achievement gaps. An Act Relative to the Achievement Gap (Senate 224) addresses the task of turning around schools and school districts that are underperforming and includes three key provisions relative to limited English proficient students that I insisted be included in the act.
First, when a superintendent creates a turnaround plan for a school or the commissioner of education creates a turnaround plan for a school district, there must be steps taken to address gaps for limited English proficient students in the plan. Superintendents and the commissioner must also include alternative English language learning programs for limited English proficient students, notwithstanding Chapter 71, which requires schools in Massachusetts to teach only in the English language. I regard this as a vital victory for all limited English proficient students who have suffered under Chapter 71 since its enactment in 2002.
Second, any school with limited English proficient students must provide professional development and planning time for teachers and administrators to develop specific strategies and content to maximize the achievement of limited English proficient students at the school. Thus, teachers and administrators will be able to work together to address barriers to learning that many limited English proficient students face, in any language group.
Finally, any underperforming school that operates a limited English proficient program for limited English proficient students must establish a limited English proficient parent advisory council. Each parent advisory council must include a least one representative from every language group represented in a turnaround plan. Without the creation of these councils, it is nearly impossible for non-English-speaking parents to participate in other school site councils and they therefore cannot play a role in their children’s education. With the creation of parental advisory councils, English education programs will find that level of accountability we seek through parents who will meet with school officials to give feedback on the effectiveness of the programs.
Our community is directly affected by the law, because we have a disproportionate number of underperforming schools, in addition to some high-performing ones. I am both hopeful and confident that the inclusion of these three key components relative to limited English proficient students will not only be included but embraced by Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson and her team in creating turnaround plans for these underperforming schools. I believe that the implementation of this law will make a great difference in the outcomes that currently affect all of our underperforming student populations in our community and across the state.