My name is Don Soifer, and I am executive vice president of the Lexington Institute, a nonpartisan policy think tank based in Arlington, Virginia.
English learners need to be considered one of our most critical school populations, and their academic success vital to the economic future of our city, and our region. Last year, 8.3 percent (4,139) of all DCPS students were designated English Language Learners, according to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s audited numbers. Three-fourths of these are Spanish-speaking. Vietnamese, Amharic and Chinese comprise the majority of other non- English speakers, although in all some 100 languages are represented.
It is important to note that three-fifths of these English learners were born in the United States. The District Office of Latino Affairs reports that one in three Latinos living in the city has difficulty with English. Particularly when it comes to involving parents, these are factors that must be addressed for English learners to have access to the same opportunities as other children.
The foreign-born population of our nation’s capital has, however, increased by one-third since 1990. El Salvador is the most common birthplace of non-English-speakers born outside of this country, nearly one-third, followed by Mexico.
English learners stand to benefit substantially from many of the reforms being advanced under the leadership of Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee, but there is much more that needs to be done.
English learners here deserve the same educational opportunities as other students. Chances to exercise parental choice, as the Commission heard about this morning, provide parents with precious opportunities to improve their children’s prospects for success. But here in the nation’s capital, English learners are missing out on the opportunities available to others.
The District’s current out-of-boundary school attendance policies work against English learners. This comes as little surprise to anyone riding a bus or the metro in the middle of a weekday afternoon.
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