Friday, May 3, 2013

Grantmaking efforts to improve educational outcomes for ELLs: more needed

The demands of English language learners (ELLs) in communities around the country is increasing rapidly. Given growing numbers of ELL children and expanded interest in supporting these learners, Grantmakers for Education (GFE) recently completed an analysis of grantmaking efforts to improve educational outcomes for ELLs from birth through grade 12.

The report, Educating English Language Learners: Grantmaking Strategies for Closing America’s Other Achievement Gap, is designed to respond to shifting demographics, the needs of ELL students, and the role grantmakers can play in strengthening outcomes for this vulnerable group of students

Key findings include:

  • Most funders support ELLs through their education portfolios with no targeted ELL portfolio

  • ELL grantmaking is primarily local and often targets other demographic factors such as low-income status and low academic achievement

  • ELL grantmaking is concentrated in several key fields of interest such as early literacy and out-of-school time programs

The education of English language learners became a universal public commitment as a result of a 1973 Supreme Court case. Today, with 5.3 million English learners enrolled in US K-12 schools comprising 10.7 percent of total student enrollment, the demand for equitable access and instruction is as great as it’s ever been.

Additionally, the population of K-12 English learners has grown by 60 percent in the last decade. By 2020, estimates indicate that half of all public school students will have non-English speaking backgrounds. These demands have serious implications for our society, and for people and institutions investing in school reform and the education of English learners.

The report details lessons for philanthropy, but these lessons are relevant for educators, leaders and policymakers at all levels. Kenji Hakuta of Stanford University emphasizes, “There is a danger to simply saying good instruction is good instruction for all kids, because ELLs have specific needs that have to be addressed.”

Dr. Huilan Krenn, program officer at the W. K. Kellogg Foundation says, “ELL children and families are among the most vulnerable in our society, and philanthropy is well-positioned to develop effective models, spearhead collaboration, and take the reins to support and serve them where the public sector cannot or may not.”

Four case studies in the report detail best practices and effective grantmaking strategies for a variety of learners with specific needs. Tonia Holowetzki, GFE’s director of communications adds, “This report is designed to raise awareness of the needs of ELLs from birth to grade 12, as well as inspire increased funding and greater capacity for grantmakers working to change lives and make strategic investments.”

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