ACLU warns it will sue state over 20,000 unserved English learners

The ACLU and the Asian American Pacific Legal Center released an 11-page report, "Opportunity Lost: Addressing the Widespread Denial of  Services to Californina English Learner Students," to explain its complaint (click to enlarge).

The ACLU and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center released an 11-page report, “Opportunity Lost: Addressing the Widespread Denial of Services to Californina English Learner Students,” to explain its complaint (click to enlarge).

The American Civil Liberties Union of California and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center threatened yesterday to sue the state within 30 days if it doesn’t ensure that school districts provide more than 20,000 students with limited English proficiency the services to which they’re legally entitled.

In a letter sent to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and State Board of Education President Michael Kirst, the ACLU charged the state with a “long-standing abdication of its responsibility” and gave the state a month to indicate how it would notify districts that aren’t following the law and track the services they should be offering.

The failure to provide services, wrote Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel of the ACLU of Southern California, leads to “drastic consequences” for English language learners, who are then “most at risk of dropping out or experiencing persistent academic failure.” The graduation rate for English learners, according to state data, was only 60 percent in 2010-11.

ACLU Chief Counsel Mark Rosenbaum said no teachers defended the program.

ACLU of Southern California  Chief Counsel Mark Rosenbaum

In data tables on its website that list categories of specialized language instruction students received, the state Department of Education acknowledges that 20,318 of 1.4 million English learners aren’t getting any help at all. The services, which can start with a year of English immersion followed by various types of instruction in mainstream classes and additional specialized classes, are intended to lead to proficiency in academic language skills.

In a written response to the ACLU’s letter, the director of the state’s English Learner Support Division, Karen Cadiero-Kaplan, praised the services received by 98 percent of English learners and said that the state has met its obligation and that dissatisfied parents of English learners should “work with their local school district” and, if necessary, file a complaint against the district themselves.

“Despite the enormous financial strains of recent years, California has made dramatic progress in seeing that all English learners receive appropriate instruction and services,” she stated.

Data filed by districts show which one had the most English learners not served and the percentage they make up of EL students in the district (click to enlarge).

Data filed by districts show which one had the most English learners not served and the percentage they make up of EL students in the districts (click to enlarge).

Although the 20,318 students represent only about 1.5 percent of the state’s 1.5 million English learners, documentation provided by the ACLU indicates that more than half are in seven districts, including three high school districts: Salinas Union High (1,618 of 3,784 EL students – 43 percent – receiving no services); Grossmont Union High (1,389 of 3,368 EL students) in San Diego County and William S. Hart Union High (1,142 of 2,118 EL students) in Los Angeles County. The 4,150 students in Los Angeles Unified, while comprising the largest concentration, represent only 2 percent  of the district’s English learners. In Compton Unified, 1,697 of 10,505 English learners (16 percent) get no services. All told, the unserviced students are in 251 districts (26 percent of the total), small and large, urban and rural.

Districts are required to report annually the services they provide. The ACLU’s complaint doesn’t address the appropriateness or quality of the services. Since all of the data are self-reported by the districts, the numbers may be understated, the “tip of the iceberg,” Rosenbaum said, but no one knows because the state is not checking. And the large numbers in the high schools indicate these are long-term English learners who may have received inadequate language training since elementary school and are now languishing. Districts are obligated under federal and state laws, backed by the 1974 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Lau v. Nichols, which involved a San Francisco lawsuit, to provide services to non-English speakers.

An estimated 85 percent of English language learners in California were born in America.  Most live in homes where English is not the primary language. A survey of districts in the 2010 study “Reparable Harm” for the nonprofit Californians Together by language expert Laurie Olsen found that 59 percent of English learners in grades 6-12 are long-term English learners: those who were in school at least six years in this country, had stalled in gaining English fluency as measured by the annual California English Language Development Test (CELDT) and had failed the California Standards Test (CST) in English with scores of basic or below basic. In one out of three districts, 75 percent of English learners struggle as long-term ELs, the report said.

Obligations come with money

Critics have suggested there is a financial incentive for districts to overclassify students as English learners and then not to reclassify them as English proficient. English learners receive federal Title III aid, amounting to $105 per student, plus state aid through the $1 billion program Economic Impact Aid, which worked out to an average of $337 per student last year, according to state figures. The “Reparable Harm” report concluded that most districts lack a definition or means of identifying and monitoring the progress of English learners. After receiving weak help in elementary school, many long-term English learners end up with more of what didn’t work before: “inappropriate placement in mainstream (no program), being placed and kept in classes with newcomer English Learners, being taught by largely unprepared teachers, overassigned and inadequately served in intervention and support classes, being precluded from participation in electives, and with limited access to the full curriculum.”

Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, executive director of Californians Together, a Long Beach-based organization advocating for low-income students and English learners, said that the state has cut back on monitoring districts’ English language services from 250 per year – or about an average of once every four years several years ago – to 60 per year now. “The state has an obligation to find out why students are not being served,” she said Wednesday.

Advocacy groups for high-needs students like Californians Together, the Education Trust-West and Public Advocates are worried that the state’s role in overseeing programs for English learners may shrink further under Gov. Jerry Brown’s school funding reforms. Brown has proposed at least about an extra $2,400 for every English learner, low-income student and youth in foster care. There would be a cap of five years in bonus money for English learners, as a disincentive to keep students in programs too long. Brown would shift the primary role of holding districts accountable for spending the money wisely and appropriately to parents and taxpayers; the district would make available an academic accountability plan tied to district spending.

Brown hasn’t fleshed out details, but advocacy groups want more oversight by the county offices of education or the state. A lawsuit by the ACLU over the 20,000 unserved English learners could be a precursor of battles to come.





Filed under: High-Needs Students, Reforms

Tags: , , , ,


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment Policy

EdSource encourages a robust debate on education issues and welcomes comments from our readers.

  • To preserve a civil dialogue, writers should avoid personal, gratuitous attacks and invective.
  • Comments should be relevant to the subject of the article responded to.
  • EdSource retains the right not to publish inappropriate and offensive comments.
  • EdSource encourages commenters to use their real names. Commenters who do decide to use a pseudonym should use it consistently.
  • Please limit comments to 250 words to prevent comment clutter; if you intend to say more please link out to a place that contains your full comment.
  • Comments with more than one link automatically enter moderation. Comments from new commenters are automatically moderated.
  • Repeated violation of this comment policy will lead to a warning. Continued violations will lead to a ban.

11 Responses to “ACLU warns it will sue state over 20,000 unserved English learners”

EdSource does not track who "likes or dislikes" a comment. We only track the number of likes and dislikes.

  1. Don on Apr 24, 2013 at 12:22 pm04/24/2013 12:22 pm

    • -11-100

    My wife works at a CA high school, pop +-3200. They have 3 ESL Classrooms, none of the 3 have a spanish speaking teacher, no aids, no spanish speaking academic advisors, 25% latino pop. Its a money grab by both the district and the state!
    Once in a ESL class, never removed = district payday!

  2. el on Jan 24, 2013 at 1:29 pm01/24/2013 1:29 pm

    • 000

    I’d like to better understand what it means that those kids don’t receive services, and why that would be. Is it because the schools the kids attend aren’t offering them at all? Is it because those kids speak unexpected languages? Is it because the kids are moving around a lot and not getting identified? The examples suggest it’s only a small percentage in most cases.

    The separate question would be whether the services that are provided seem to be adequate educationally. For example, at the high school level, if “services” mean that the kids get one period of ELL type instruction and then are left to fend for themselves in math or science, that would seem a very difficult path even for very bright and motivated kids.


    • Manuel on Jan 25, 2013 at 3:37 pm01/25/2013 3:37 pm

      • 000

      As with all legal challenges, most likely the ACLU has identified a set of students who are not getting services and they will be the plaintiffs in a lawsuit covering ALL English learners in California.

      The short answer to your question, therefore, is that it is all those reasons you have cited.

      As for the “quality” of the services rendered, well, I know for a fact that the textbooks used by English learners are the same as those used by English speakers. Yet, all teachers dealing with English learners (and nearly half of the K-2 population is) must have a BCLAD. It is reasonable to assume that they are using bilingual approaches without the support of bilingual materials and bilingual teacher aides. (Of course, there are some exceptions out there but this is the norm as I know it.) Would this meet the standard that the ACLU believes must be met? I don’t know, but I would doubt it.

    • Teacher of ELLs on Apr 28, 2013 at 10:25 am04/28/2013 10:25 am

      • 000

      As a teacher of ELLs we are required to use for specific teaching strategies for these identified students. As part of our professional development we learn and practice theses strategies to better meet the needs of our ELs. The problem is that there are are so many. They have to be identified and the strategies are varied depending on the students levels. You are not supposed to have more than two different levels in the group but there isn’t extra space/teachers to truly group all of them appropriately. There is also a little thing called language acquisition. We all learn language at different rates. The ACLU might want to pay for more facilities and teachers at our local schools.

  3. Regis on Jan 24, 2013 at 7:14 am01/24/2013 7:14 am

    • -11-100

    Stuck on Stupid! This is what happens, when you have a huge population of “peasant class” illegals, with all the attributes of the third world, invading our state by the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, that don’t want to assimilate, expect all their services, shopping, advertisements, magazines and TV in Spanish, yet we have to be sued, because they don’t want to learn English!


    • navigio on Jan 24, 2013 at 7:43 am01/24/2013 7:43 am

      • 000

      Oh, but ‘they’ dont invade, we actually pay ‘them’ to come.

    • Manuel on Jan 24, 2013 at 12:36 pm01/24/2013 12:36 pm

      • 000

      Are you one of those who voted for Prop. 227 back in 1998?

      If so, you reap what you sow for buying into Ron Unz’ claim that wiping out bilingual education and imposing “sheltered English immersion” would solve the problem once and for all. So, yeah, we are stuck on stupid.

      BTW, nobody has forced the merchants and service providers to provide “si desea continuar en español, oprima el número 2.” They are making lots of money out of all those immigrants. And a significant portion of them need to press other numbers so maybe that’s the real reason behind the ACLU’s lawsuit.

      (Meanwhile, the virtues of speaking more than one language get stronger every day. Yet, here in the good ol’ US of A, we take pride in being monolingual. Or, as they say elsewhere in the world, American.)

      • Regis on Jan 25, 2013 at 7:16 am01/25/2013 7:16 am

        • 000

        Manuel, thanks for the response and I gave careful thought to what you said.

        “Meanwhile, the virtues of speaking more than one language get stronger every day. Yet, here in the good ol’ US of A, we take pride in being monolingual. Or, as they say elsewhere in the world, American.)”

        I am a French Canadian immigrant, who came here speaking french, and had zero “FSL” or “French as a Second Language” schooling. America didn’t bend backwards for me to learn english, I had to step up and do it on my own, just like the waves of legal immigrants from Europe have done in the past.

        My whole family’s intent from the beginning was to become American, learn it’s ways, become part of the American experience and assimilate. Sure we kept our language in our homes and I have no problems with communities that do so, in their local business areas and private lives.

        Once this new and profound PC-driven agenda’s of ‘diversity’ and multiculturalism came into place within the last few decades, there is no longer a cohesiveness of the overall American experience and it is now being watered down. A country that is divided, will certainly pay the price.

        What we are creating is a huge underclass of people that don’t have any incentives to learn english and it is to the advantage of the Service Sector to keep them that way, because their refusal, lack of wherewithal or unwillingness to participate in the common English-driven language of business and success in this country, keeps them in low wage misery.

        You are absolutely right about the merchants and service providers in providing spanish as an option and it is simply because the demographic has gotten big enough to make money off of them. My best friend of 42 years, is of hispanic descent and knows no spanish. But his observations of the men in the neighborhood were interesting. They all spoke perfect english, but the women and children knew none. And isn’t that a ‘control’ strategy tied to the prevalent ‘macho’ aspect of this culture?

        I have black friends, brown friends and white friends and our overall view is that we are all Americans first, not Mexican-Americans, or African-Americans or French-Canadian-Americans, but Americans. Some of my black friends would be highly offended if you called them “African-Americans” because they’ve been here for 200 years plus and have nothing to do with Africa, except as to that where they were descended from hundreds of years ago.

        How to overcome this terrible situation is another thing and our accomodation isn’t helping.

        • navigio on Jan 25, 2013 at 7:59 am01/25/2013 7:59 am

          • 000

          This lawsuit is about equal access. The ‘accommodation’ here is simply providing what the rest of the ELL students are getting, though I get your point that you are concerned about the broader issue. Ironically, in my district (and others) there are schools and grades in which english learners outperform english only students on the english tests. Think about that. There are a few reasons for that but one of them is that those students are receiving services that other english-only students are not. This may point to the value of such services, and if so, seems like it would be something that would address the concerns you outlined above (independent of the very important question of how we get equal access to all of our students, something we cannot fail to do in spite of our significant immigrant population).

          I live in socal and there are communities here in which you can go and never need to use english. That ‘incentive’ is created by a segregated living pattern, not educational services in schools. In fact, schools are, for many children around here, the only place they ever hear english for a large part of their young lives. And they often get extra attention to help them learn our language more quickly. I dont know how removing that targeted intervention and slowing their progress would somehow make them assimilate more quickly.

          Not that it matters, but there are many countries in the world in which the business language is in fact different than the ‘mother tongue’. There are also countries in which multiple languages are spoken, either by region, or by ethnicity. Yes, even in europe, which to some extent shares our ‘culture’. I consider that a wonderful thing, at least if one finds languages and cultures interesting. Go hang out in an alpine valley in Switzerland or Austria. They even make fun of the language from the next valley over, even if the differences are only minor.

        • Manuel on Jan 25, 2013 at 3:22 pm01/25/2013 3:22 pm

          • 000

          Regis, thank you for your long reply.

          Unfortunately, your reply is not much different than the arguments put forth by Prop 227 more than ten years ago. Nothing has changed.

          I will now reply to some of your points:

          “I am a French Canadian immigrant, who came here speaking french […] just like the waves of legal immigrants from Europe have done in the past”

          Therein lies the problem. You were told to “sink or swim”. “America” did not care to teach you English. “America” simply told you to learn it on your own and sit in the back of the classroom until you did. Just like it did to almost every immigrant prior to the 70s, when bilingual education was introduced as a “civil right.”

          But, hey, don’t feel bad. “America” did it for more than a hundred years to the descendants of the Mexicans who stayed in this side of the border after 1848. It took the Mendez decision in 1946 for the educational marginalization of Mexican Americans to finally be declared unconstitutional. It took decades before they got bilingual education. And then it was taken away by monolinguals waving the same arguments as you.

          (I wonder, why did you have to pull the “legal immigrant” canard? The great majority of those Spanish, Korean, Armenian, etc.-speaking students who need bilingual education ARE US citizens.)

          “Once this new and profound PC-driven agenda’s of ‘diversity’ and […]”

          Baloney. All immigrant groups have behaved the same way: they remained in their enclaves for the first generation but their children all moved out and up (And they even inter-married!). This is just paranoia on the part of those who are now “white” against the newcomers. It has happened before and it will happen again.

          “What we are creating is a huge underclass of people […] keeps them in low wage misery.”

          We are? Really? Are college courses taught in anything else other than English? Where is your proof that all these people are “takers?” As for low wage misery, I understand that it is bad out there even for English-speaking college graduates.

          “[…] They all spoke perfect english, but the women and children knew none. And isn’t that a ‘control’ strategy tied to the prevalent ‘macho’ aspect of this culture?”

          Good grief. Has your friend observed that the same happens with their sons and daughters? No? Then it must be because their children have assimilated! Imagine that! (The fact is that the women are getting better education than the men in the immigrant families I know and there’s even sociological research that confirms this. That blows your friend’s observation out of the water.)

          “I have black friends, brown friends and white friends and our overall view is that we are all Americans first, […]”

          Ah, there’s the real reason: “Those people are not like us, therefore they are not true Americans. They should suffer just like we did, who do they think they are?”

          “How to overcome this terrible situation is another thing and our accomodation isn’t helping.”

          It’s simple: stop being a bigot. Educate yourself. Do some comparative analysis of migration patterns and assimilation. Read, for example, “Underground” by DeLillo, “Accordion Crimes” by Proulx, and “Teacher Man” by McCourt. Audit a good US history course at your local college. That should help you understand the people you consider a problem and then be able to offer solutions based on logic and facts rather than emotion and half-truths.

          • Teacher of ELLs on Apr 28, 2013 at 10:15 am04/28/2013 10:15 am

            • 000


Template last modified: