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Less learning and late guidance: School districts struggle to help English language learners during COVID-19 crisis

The rapid shift to remote learning forced by the COVID-19 crisis has left the nation’s roughly 5 million English language learners in a precarious position

Traci Whitfield, a fourth grade teacher at Dupont Elementary in the Adams 14 school district, teaches a class during remote learning. (Provided by Adams 14)
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This story was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Sign up for their newsletters here: ckbe.at/newsletters

By Yesenia Robles and Kalyn Belsha, Chalkbeat

Just a few months back, high school students learning English as a second language in the Adams 14 school district outside Denver spent 53 minutes a day in a special class dedicated to building up their language skills.

When school buildings went dark and learning shifted online, that practice ended. High schoolers learning English in the heavily Hispanic, mostly low-income district started getting language assignments twice a week instead.

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In elementary schools, children got 30 minutes of remote instruction in English and math each day. Teachers were supposed to incorporate language skills into that work, but students missed out on 55 minutes of daily English language development they received before the virus struck.

The rapid shift to remote learning forced by the COVID-19 crisis has left the nation’s roughly 5 million English language learners in a precarious position. Many have seen their language instruction shrink as districts balance competing priorities and struggle to connect with students attending school from their living rooms.

Schools and districts have largely had to figure out how to meet the needs of English learners on their own. It wasn’t until this week — when most schools had been teaching students remotely for two months, and some were ending the school year — that the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance clarifying that educators must continue to provide English language support “to the greatest extent possible” during the pandemic.

And while some districts crafted remote learning plans that took into consideration the unique needs of English learners and their families before the guidance was handed down, that hasn’t been the case everywhere.

The stakes are high because English learners risk learning loss on two fronts. Without language development help,students’ progress toward mastering the English language is slowed, and their ability to pick up subjects taught to them in English gets hurt, too.

Read the rest of the story here.