English Learners (ELs) are alarmingly underrepresented at special-admission and citywide high schools in Philadelphia. Despite the LeGare Consent Decree that requires that ELs constitute 7% of each ninth-grade class at these high schools, the SDP has not made adequate efforts to ensure equity in this regard. The language policy draft includes attention to ALL of the issues listed below, but whether this policy will be enforced is a concern.
LeGare: First, of course, the SDP needs to enforce the LeGare Consent Decree for ELs, as well as for special education students. There appear to be no consequences for schools that violate the ruling in their admissions procedures.
EL/family support: As noted in my last testimony, ELs and their families are not receiving adequate—or any— support in preparing their high school applications. The new language policy calls for increased attention to the application stage for ELs and their families at all schools.
ESOL/content teacher support: Special-admission high schools must be supplied with competent ESOL faculty, and content-area teachers must participate in professional development on delivering EL-friendly instruction. The SDP administration must take a proactive step in preparing the way for ELs to succeed at these schools. And they must make a promise to end the vicious cycle: No support for ELs means few or no ELs are admitted to these schools. Unfair.
Specialized schools: The SDP should be proud of many of the rigorous and innovative special high schools that are available to our students. Judging from the disappointingly low numbers of racial minorities, ELs, and special education students at these schools, however, as well as the alarming numbers of students leaving for charter high schools, there are clearly not enough seats in high-quality high schools in Philadelphia. Speaking specifically for ELs, there is clearly a need for a well-designed, academically-oriented newcomer high school that could address some of the specific needs of newcomer ELs with very limited English and, in some cases, interrupted schooling. Other cities such as New York and San Francisco offer outstanding high-school programs that particularly serve ELs who arrive in the U.S. in late middle or high school. For this to work in Philadelphia, there must be the will to create an autonomous school—not just a slapdash program within an already-existing school. In this newcomer high school model the teachers and administrators would be free to develop appropriate curriculum and materials, to roster classes flexibly to meet the students’ special needs, and to incorporate the cultures and languages of the students into every facet of school life. Students would receive a solid background in English; no longer would students be allowed to graduate from a Philadelphia high school with very limited or no English, as is currently the case. The program administrators would have full independence in hiring staff that is certified and experienced in working effectively with ELs. The planning and implementation would be thoughtful and thorough, unlike the process currently in place for the Newcomer Program. We have an innovation network in Philadelphia—-let’s see them innovate for the benefit of ELs. It is high time.