Here's why we want to spend $13 million MORE on English Learners next year

MsConfer's classroom2 Cole Elementary is a great example of the great things happening in Metro Schools' focus on helping EL students acquire language skills and succeed.

With students from Mexico, Malaysia and Nepal, Ms. Brielle Confer's third grade English learner support classroom at Cole is reinforcing how to say and understand numbers. She says she is seeing more students who enroll in Metro Schools with no knowledge of English - otherwise known as level one English Learner (EL) students.

"I think we are seeing more and more level ones coming in," Confer said.

The Office of English Learners is asking for $12.7 million in extra funding for the 2016-2017 school year to help students like these and many thousands more throughout Nashville.

With 15 percent of students receiving direct English Learner (EL) services and 31 percent of families speaking a language other than English at home, the need for teachers and quality programming are great.

Confer said students coming to Metro Schools with no knowledge of English can make significant gains once they get the support they need. She mentioned a student from Honduras who in less than a year went from a level one to a level three.

"Coming from nothing in August to a first grade reading level is tremendous. He's already made a year's growth in reading," Confer said. "We can see students gaining language faster in some instances, depending on the student and their personality."

But every student is different, and in addition to helping EL students acquire English, many students are coming to Metro Schools from other countries, which means more support is needed.

The Office of English Learners is in year two of a three-year strategic plan for service improvement and restructuring to give students more direct EL instruction. This year’s budget request includes increases across several departments to better serve students. The majority would go to additional hiring EL teachers, giving EL training for all teachers and acquiring technology.

For Cole Elementary principal Dr. Darwin Mason, literacy is the main focus on improving academic outcomes for the school.

He sees himself as a conductor putting together a very promising song of research-based student supports, interventions, multi-classroom leaders to coach his skillful - but young - teaching staff and academic conversations to spur classroom engagement.

With 833 students - more than a third of whom are Hispanic and nearly half of whom are English learners - Cole Elementary is one of the largest elementary schools in Nashville. Adding to the complexity, nearly 92 percent of the school's students are considered economically disadvantaged.

"We feel like if we can teach a child how to read, they can pretty much do everything else. They can get the math, science and social studies. But reading is the basis for knowledge," Dr. Mason said. "Our goal is to teach them how to read,  how to decode words, how to comprehend and how to write sentences, sentence structure - since writing is all part of reading - how to dig deeper into text, and how to understand text. These are all things that a child from an impoverished country or poor background need extra help to do."


Extra help for English Learners means having "newcomer teachers" who will work with students who come to the school from other countries and aren't used to the American public school setting. These students may be older, but they often bring all the anxieties of an incoming preschooler because the environment here is different than what they are used toCool. Dr. Mason brought in his first newcomer teacher a few years ago.

"We found success. In fact, 90 percent of her students moved out of a newcomer classroom and into a regular grade level classroom," Mason said. "Next year we want to have five teachers. We see that it is helping and working really well."

Kevin Stacy, director of the Office of English Learners in Metro Schools says that the $12.7 million budget request reflects best practices for EL student populations.

Through student-based budgeting, EL students are funded at a higher level than their English-speaking peers. Next year, the amount of extra funding an EL student received will double - from 10 percent to 21 percent. This will give schools even more opportunities to pay for the resources they need.


From after school programs and summer camps to literacy nights, bilingual tutors, and a newcomer academy, Stacy said building more capacity inside and outside the classroom is essential.

"More resources are needed for underserved populations ... EL is one of them," Stacy said. "Giving principals the ability to hire more teachers will help meet the district's rapid growth in English learners, so that we can not only build more resources to help students and their families learn English, but give students the support to be successful."

Click here to view the English Learners strategies budget proposal or view it below:

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