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California’s education system failing English learners, study finds




Arianna Anderson takes a hula class at the George Nakano Theatre at the Torrance Cultural Arts Center. The daughter of a Hawaiian father and Mexican-American mother, Arianna has spent five years in the Los Angeles Unified school district's English learner program. The Andersons believe she didn't belong there in the first place.
Arianna Anderson takes a hula class at the George Nakano Theatre at the Torrance Cultural Arts Center. The daughter of a Hawaiian father and Mexican-American mother, Arianna has spent five years in the Los Angeles Unified school district's English learner program. The Andersons believe she didn't belong there in the first place.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

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A new report shows that programs offered in California to students who are learning English are not living up to expectations.

One-quarter of students in California do not speak English, which represents a third of students nationwide. The goal of these programs is to get English learners to flourish and eventually exit out, but New American Foundation senior researcher Conor Williams says the state’s system is in chaos.

Williams is the author of "Chaos for Dual Language Learners," which finds the problems stem from inconsistencies in programs across districts.

While the students are getting access to content in English, it is at a slowed, simplified pace — which is good because that's the only way some of them will understand, but “the problem, of course, is that means that they fall behind in their academic content mastery, even as they’re struggling to develop their English proficiency,” Williams said.

Research shows one out of three students receiving language support services remain in those programs after eighth grade. Of those who still receive language help into high school, half of them fail the ninth grade.

One solution, Williams recommends, is setting a single state benchmark on English proficiency

“There’s evidence suggesting that California’s system is so disorganized and misaligned that it's actually more simple for students to be reclassified and tossed in with their mainstream, English-speaking peers, rather than to be provided English support services,” Williams said.