Latino and ELL Students in the New Educational Landscape

09/01/2010 04:46 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

To help about 5,000 of the nation's most troubled schools, the Obama administration is offering competitive Race to the Top funds to districts that lift their caps on charter schools. This approach is just one part of a larger strategy to reverse the decline of failing schools in this country.

When we talk about turning schools around, more and more we're talking about improving educational outcomes for Latino and English language learner (ELL) students, who are often disproportionately represented in troubled schools. A new report, Next Generation Charter Schools: Meeting the Needs of Latinos and English Language Learners, by the Center for American Progress (CAP) and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) stops to examine the relationship between charter schools and Latino and ELL students, as well as how these schools could improve the outcomes for this growing population.

The most recent data suggest that nearly one-quarter (23.8%) of charter school students are Latino, a number that is expected to keep growing at a rapid pace. Moreover, 40% of Latino students are also ELLs, so the role that these new schools have in specifically serving nonnative speakers of English should also keep expanding.

Like traditional public schools, charter schools have at times received both glowing and dismal reviews. Autonomous in nature, they are nonetheless fully accountable to the state and, most importantly, the families they serve. When they're done right, Latino and ELL students can benefit from an enriching experience that puts them on the path to college. Our report profiles four high-performing charter schools that serve a significant portion of Latinos and ELLs, including two from the NCLR School Network of approximately 100 community-based schools, which focus on these core areas: rigorous instruction to prepare all students for college success, integration of literacy development strategies across the curriculum, and effective strategies for ELLs.

The profiled schools are El Sol Science and Arts Academy in Santa Ana, California; Raul Yzaguirre School for Success in Houston, Texas; YES Prep Gulfton in Houston, Texas; and International Charter School in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. All four offer lessons in how to better recruit, educate, and serve Latino and ELL students, including how to establish high expectations for the academic, intellectual, and social growth of all students. These schools have accelerated the pace at which ELL students engage with grade-level content, such as by increasing expanded learning time opportunities, training all staff on effective strategies to engage ELL students, and using formal and informal strategies to promote family and community engagement.

Our school districts have an opportunity to reevaluate their priorities and refocus their resources. Let's get it right this time around for Latino and ELL students.

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