Category: From the Expert

Reparable Harm

View or download “Reparable Harm”

Reparable Harm:  Fulfilling the Unkept Promise of Educational Opportunity for California’s Long Term English Learners

Reparable Harm is a wake up call to California educators and policymakers to recognize the large number of English Learner students amassing in California secondary schools who despite many years in our schools and despite being close to the age at which they should be able to graduate, are still not English proficient and have incurred
major academic deficits — the “Long Term English Learners.” This publication presents new survey data collected from 40 school districts throughout all regions of California in 2009–2010. It includes information on 175,734 secondary school students, almost one-third of all secondary school English Learners in the state. It is further informed by existing research literature, and inquiries conducted in California secondary schools.  Together, these sources provide an emerging and startling picture of students left behind, parents uninformed, educators unaware, and districts largely stumped about what to do.

Major findings

  • The majority (59%) of secondary school English Learners are “Long Term English Learners” (in United States schools for more than six years without reaching sufficient English proficiency to be reclassified). In one out of three districts, more than 75% of their English Learners are Long Term.
  • California school districts do not have a shared definition of “Long Term English Learners.” Most districts lack any definition or means of identifying or monitoring the progress and achievement of this population. Only one in four districts has a formal definition or designation for identifying, counting, serving or monitoring services for these students — and their definitions vary in the number of years considered “normative” for how soon English Learners should have reached proficiency (range from five to ten years).
  • English Learners become “Long Term” English Learners in the course of their schooling experience. Several factors seem to contribute to becoming a Long Term English Learner: receiving no language development program at all; being given elementary school curricula and materials that weren’t designed to meet English Learner needs; enrollment in weak language development program models and poorly implemented English Learner programs; histories of inconsistent programs; provision of narrowed curricula and only partial access to the full curriculum; social segregation and linguistic isolation; and, cycles of transnational moves.
  • By the time Long Term English Learners arrive in secondary schools, there is a set of characteristics that describe their overall profile. These students struggle academically. They have distinct language issues, including: high functioning social language, very weak academic language, and significant deficits in reading and writing skills. The majority of Long Term English Learners are “stuck” at Intermediate levels of English proficiency or below, although others reach higher levels of English proficiency without attaining the academic language to be reclassified. Long Term English Learners have significant gaps in academic background knowledge. In addition, many have developed habits of non-engagement, learned passivity and invisibility in school. The majority of Long Term English Learners wants to go to college, and are unaware that their academic skills, record and courses are not preparing them to reach that goal. Neither students, their parents nor their community realizes that they are in academic jeopardy.
  • Few districts have designated programs or formal approaches designed for Long Term English Learners. Instead, the typical “program” and placements for Long Term English Learners in secondary schools appear to be similar to what they received in elementary school. It consists of: 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.

Promising Approaches
Reparable Harm offers a set of basic principles for more effectively meeting the needs of English Learners that can be applied across contexts, understanding that the actual program that can be mounted in any one school or district will differ depending on the numbers of students, dispersal across district sites, and capacity.  The report presents a comprehensive secondary school program for Long Term English Learners based upon these principles. The recommended program includes: a specialized English Language Development course designed for Long Term English Learners; clustered placement in heterogeneous and rigorous grade-level content classes (including honors, A–G) mixed with English proficient students and taught with differentiated SDAIE strategies; explicit language and literacy development across the curriculum; native speakers classes (in an articulated sequence through Advanced Placement levels); a master schedule designed for flexibility and movement as students progress; systems for monitoring progress and triggering support; and a school-wide focus on study skills, among other components.
What goes on inside those classrooms is equally crucial. Placing students with language needs and academic gaps into rigorous courses with high-level content depends upon instruction that is designed and adapted to their needs. The report describes the instructional characteristics of a strong secondary school Long Term English Learner program. Teachers need to know their students and engage in careful analysis of the language demands of the content they are teaching, as well as possess skills in implementing appropriate instructional strategies.
It is the role of the district to ensure high quality implementation of  research-based programs for English Learners through: clearly defined  pathways and clear descriptions of program models in English Learner Master Plans;  providing professional development (including coaching and collaborative time) for teachers and administrators in understanding the needs of English Learners and strategies to meet those needs; communication and clarity of expectations about what quality instruction looks like; curriculum materials that facilitate differentiation for varying levels of needs; published expectations of growth and achievement for English Learners by length of time in program and by proficiency levels; systems of observation and mechanisms for monitoring student progress; emphasis on articulation between levels; systems for holding site administrators accountable for high quality programs for English Learners; and increasing access to preschool programs designed for English Learners.
Systems issues and policy recommendations
Beyond the overall challenges facing the public school system, Reparable Harm identifies significant challenges facing districts in seeking to address the specific needs of Long Term English Learners. These barriers include: inadequate data and student information systems; shortage of teachers prepared with the knowledge and skills to effectively teach Long Term English Learners; lack of appropriate curriculum and materials targeted for this population; contradictory mandates and counsel; general misunderstandings and lack of knowledge of the research about effective practices for Long Term English Learners; inadequate assessments and systems to know how English Learners are doing or to identify English Learners who are not adequately progressing; widespread lack of understanding related to English Language Development and misunderstandings about what constitutes “English proficiency.” These are all, fundamentally, policy issues. They are also leadership issues.
Civil rights legislation and court action has been necessary in past decades because schools, on their own volition, were not adequately including or addressing the needs of English Learners. The No Child Left Behind Act has now created new pressure on schools to serve this population. Yet still, throughout the state too many schools and districts make English Learners a low priority. It has taken state law, compliance monitoring and protected categorical funding to build and maintain some measure of response to English Learners in the schools. State policies that protect resources and require schools to serve English Learners must be preserved. And, leadership needs to step forward to clearly, squarely, fully make English Learners a focus of school improvement efforts in this state.  This report drew upon multiple types of sources to piece together the first-ever picture of what is occurring with Long Term English Learners in California. The data and research that is available does not yet add up to the solid foundation that is needed to inform a definitive response to this urgent challenge, but action cannot wait. Reparable Harm offers seven recommendations to move California towards the remedying and preventing harm that has been done to Long Term English Learners. These include:

  • Calling for a standard state definition of Long Term English Learners, and data collection mechanisms to support monitoring, early identification, planning and response.
  • Ensuring the availability of appropriate and effective English Language Development materials and academic content materials to promote access to the core content.
  • Developing consistent state messages and counsel (across accountability, corrective action and compliance functions) based upon English Learner research, setting benchmark expectations for student progress, and speaking to the differentiated needs of Long Term English Learners and more accurately reflecting research.
  • Build the capacity and skills of teachers and administrators in California so they are more prepared and skilled to work with English Learners and Long Term English Learners.
  • Ensure that English Learners have access to the full curriculum.
  • Provide parents with the information needed to monitor the impacts of the schools’ services and programs on their students, to know whether their children are progressing normatively, and to play an active role in helping shape their child’s education and future.
  • Invest in research and innovation to further the knowledge base about what works to prevent the development of Long Term English Learners, and to address their needs in secondary schools.

Californians Together is a statewide coalition of 22 parent, professional and civil rights organizations that mobilize communities to protect and promote the rights of 1.6 million English Learners, 25% of Californian’s students. Californians Together has served for 11 years as a statewide voice on behalf of language minority students in California public schools. The coalition is committed to securing equal access to quality education for all children.

*Thank you to Shelly Spiegel-Colman Executive Director of Californian’s Together for giving CE Credits Online permission to provide you access to the report, “Irreparable Harm”  Janet Davis , our expert this month, refers to in her  information.

View or download “Reparable Harm”

Understanding Long-term English Language Learners

In California, long-term English learners are identified as such if they are in our schools for six or more years and have not been re-designated.  Los Angeles has approximately 200,000 English learners and about 80 percent of all the ELLs in secondary are long-term. If all those students came from another country and didn’t speak English we would be ready, but that’s not the case. We have students that have been here and speak English quite well however, they don’t have academic English or reading comprehension.  Imagine being in school for three or four years and not knowing what the teacher is saying. You might understand some things but there are large amounts of information that would be missed because you did not have enough key words to be able to understand the lesson.  As mentioned in “Californian’s Together Reparable Harm” report*, those who don’t drop out, hide in the classroom. They are very quiet, well behaved and may be classified as not too bright, which is not true.   Some of them lack academic knowledge they missed and some do not have good reading comprehension, but they can read words and decode.  Putting those students into an ESL class where they are learning to decode and other very these very basic things, is what is holding them down. We do not have specific programs for these students, so we place them in the ESL class where the other students are learning English and they already know English. They need something more specific to their needs. One of the suggestions I recently read was putting secondary students into the Spanish language class where they could demonstrate all their literacy skills and could respond and have that very positive experience of succeeding, but also acclimatizing them to the school and the country. They would have grade level in history, for example, and be able to demonstrate they have grade-level skills.

*Thank you to Shelly Spiegel-Colman Executive Director of Californian’s Together for giving CE Credits Online permission to provide you access to the report, “Reparable Harm”.  Janet Davis , our expert this month, refers to in her  information.

Janet Davis is a professional development advisor with the Los Angeles Unified School District. Janet has also worked as a Spanish Bilingual Teacher, a Bilingual Program Coordinator and an instructor for the District Bilingual Master Plan Teacher Training Program. In addition, Janet is a member of the American Federation of Teachers’ ELL Cadre and a former professional musician.

Parent Forums

Parent Forums are part of an outreach effort on the part of the National Alliance of Black School Educators and U.S. Department of Education in partnership with local school districts across the country. The National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE) works very closely with U.S. Department of Education in making sure that NABSE local affiliates across the country are reaching out to parents. We continue to reach out to parents, students, administrators, teachers, and community to establish stronger bonds in helping students to achieve.

Parents are encouraged to share in the responsibility of helping their children achieve. This requires parents to be knowledgeable of school issues that affect their child’s education. The Parent Forums provide training and resources to assist parents in working with their child, how to help out at their schools, what to say to their child’s teacher and school administrators, and inform them of the issues that affect their child’s education. Parents learn so much from participating in these Parent Forums in their local school districts.

Written by:

Betty Howell Gray, Ed.D, NABSE Consultant, U.S. Department of Education Liaison

Encouraging Family Involvement

Download a printable version of “Encouraging Family Involvement”

1. Recognize that all parents, regardless of income, education level, or cultural background are involved in their children’s learning and want their children to do well in school.

Possible Actions to Take:Encouraging Family Invovlement

  • Examine assumptions about parents, assume that with support and training, they can help their students achieve.
  • Avoid blaming parents and look for ways to learn from them.

2.  Create programs that will support families to guide their children’s learning, from preschool through high school.Possible Actions to Take:

  • Adopt features from programs that are linked to gains in children’s learning (e.g. home visits, lending libraries, classes for parents).
  • At all levels, work with families to support children in making transitions.

3.  Work with families to make connections with outside organizations and groups.

Possible Actions to Take:

  • Develop families’ political knowledge and skills; help them understand how schools and organizations work.
  • Develop families’ beliefs that they can and do make a difference in their child’s life.

4.  Develop the capacity of school staff to work with families and community members.

Possible Actions to Take:

  • Increase opportunities for professional development on how to connect families and community members.5.  Link family and community engagement efforts to student learning.Possible Actions to Take:

5.  Link family and community engagement efforts to student learning.

Possible Actions to Take:

  • Develop or adopt programs to engage parents in working with their children to develop specific skills (e.g. TIPS, Family Math, Family Science, Family Reading, etc.)

6.  Focus effort to engage families and community members in developing trusting and respectful relationships.Possible Actions to Take:

  • Respect cultural and class differences (i.e. learn about various communities and their perceptions of school).
  • Adopt simple but effective practices of teacher outreach to families (e.g. person contact).

7.  Embrace a philosophy of partnership and be willing to share power with families.  Make sure that parents, school staff and community members understand that the responsibility for children’s educational development is a collaborative enterprise.Possible Actions to Take:

  • Adopt a philosophy that family and community engagement is a key component of whole school reform plan.
  • Find creative ways to involve families and communities in planning, establishing policy and making decisions.

8.  Build strong connections between schools and community organizations.Possible Actions to Take:

  • Work with community organizations to offer programs that encourage reading, writing and studying during evening, weekends and summer.
  • Open the school to community groups and agencies that offer services to families through a family resource center.
  • Collaborate with community-organizing groups that want to improve the school.
  • Coordinate efforts to reach families with community organizations, including religious groups.

9.  Design and conduct research that is more rigorous and focused, and that uses more culturally sensitive and empowering definitions of parent involvement.Possible Actions to Take:

  • Use the available resources of universities, or other institutions of high education to assist in the design, implementation and evaluation of local programs.
  • Explore how practices to engage families can enhance reform measure to improve and close the achievement gap.
  • Investigate a great variety of forms of family and community engagement.
  • Investigate how families attempt to influence schools and become more involved.

Download a printable version of “Encouraging Family Involvement”

Provided by:

Dr. Betty Howell Gray

Seattle Alliance of Black School Educators (SABSE) in partnership with

Seattle Public Schools Family Engagement Department

Visit our website at

How Family-Friendly Can Your School Be?

Download a printable version of “How Family-Friendly Can Your School Be?”How Family Friendly Can Your School Be?

Please use these questions to look at your school and talk with parents, students, and staff; find ways to make your school an even more welcoming place for ALL!

Check the items your school does well, and place a star beside ideas you’d like your school to try.

_ People entering the school experience a warm, caring, student-centered place.  Positive conversations and activities can be heard all through the building.

_ The school has a big “Welcome Families” sign in several languages outside the entrance, friendly signs inside the school, recent color photos of student activities, and student art, to welcome all who enter.  The entrance is inviting.

_ Arrow and clearly worded signs guide people around the building.  Clear signs make it easy to find and enter the office.

_ The office staff is friendly and polite to everyone, on the phone and in person.  They immediately greet visitor and make everyone feel welcome.  There are chairs for those who have to wait.

_ ALL school staff behave in a welcoming manner, including teachers, custodians, cafeteria staff, bus drivers: everyone!  Courtesy is a powerful policy and strategy of the school, an education in how to be an adult.

_ Student work is displyed throughout the school, with a description of the purpose of the work and the standard that it meets.

_ The teacher’s photo, name, course title and grade level are posted outside each classroom, for everyone’s convenience.

_ The school establishes a tone of respect for all families, regardless of culture, ethnicity, language, or disability.  There are photos of recent family activities at the school, showing that the school belongs to all of us.

_ Professional development for staff includes training on cultural competence in working with diverse families and on involving parents.

_ All activities and programs for families have a focus on how to do well in school.

_ The school has a contact person, a parent involver, who is easy for parents to reach and talk with.

_ The school actively recruits and welcomes new families from all backgrounds for school committees and improvement efforts.

_ The school makes sure that teachers and other personnel have personal contact with each family they serve, on a regular basis.  Staff shares positive news with parents.

_ The school makes sure that teachers and other personnel have personal contact with each family they serve, on a regular basis.  Staff shares positive news with parents.

_ The school has an ongoing system for Student Assistance/Response to Intervention that monitors how each student is doing academically, gets prompt, appropriate help for students early in the semester and tracks improvements.  An effective team of teachers, counselors, and an administrator determine who needs to help and notifies students and parents early, so improvements can begin.  This is a powerful way to comply with recent legislation mandating the closing of current achievement gaps.  It is empowering for all:  Students, parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators.

_ The school offers workshops for parents to help them understand how curriculum is taught, what is required for success, and how to help their children learn at home.

_ The school has a system for getting frequent feedback, ideas, questions, and concerns from parents about how they experience the school’s friendliness, sensitivity, and helpfulness in achieving the best education and school life for their children.

_ Teachers, students and parents share the same parent involvement policy and sign the same home-school agreement to work together for the best education of each child.

_ The school holds a welcome back to school family event at the start of the year, with presentations and information on how to help your child succeed in school life and work.

_ There is a parent resource room or comfortable space where parents can borrow books and educational materials and watch videos.

_ The school provides timely information to parents in language and a format that are easily understood.  Translations are available as needed.

_ Classes on constructive parenting skills are held at the school, to help 21st century parents help their children.

_ Classes are held for parents to learn to recognize early signs of a child’s interest in gang activity, and specific gang language, graffiti, and hand signs.  Parents are encouraged to attend and inform themselves.  Help is made available for parents whose children are interested or involved in gang.

_ The school offers a variety of opportunities for teachers and families to meet face to face, such as literacy nights, open house parent conference, class observations, field trips, theater and art nights, etc.

_ Families and the community describe the school as a “Family-Friendly School”, and are often seen at the school.

Download a printable version of “How Family-Friendly Can Your School Be?”

Provided by:

Dr. Betty Howell Gray

Seattle Alliance of Black School Educators (SABSE) in partnership with

Seattle Public Schools Family Engagement Department


Visit our website at