Education leaders discuss how to improve education for English learners

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HARTFORD–There are nearly 35,000 students in Connecticut schools currently learning English, according to the Department of Education.

On Tuesday, the English Language Acquisition and Educational Equity Work Group gave their recommendations on ways the state can improve education for students who aren’t native English speakers.

Leaders found significant problems with the system.

“The system is willfully understaffed, underfunded, and lacking of overall capacity,” said former state Rep. Kelvin Roldan.

The majority of English learners are located in Connecticut’s cities. Hartford has the most, with 11 percent of the student body. In New Haven 8.8 percent of the student body are English learners, and Bridgeport’s school system has 8.5 percent of those students.

Representative Juan Candelaria, co-chair of the panel, knows first-hand the learning struggles these kids face. He arrived in Connecticut from Puerto Rico at age 8 and only spoke Spanish. “I see day to day how our children suffer,” said Candelaria. “We need to improve our system.”

Recommendations include:

  • Increasing the time in bilingual instruction from 30 months to 60 months
  • Allowing teacher’s certification to transfer from other states so needed positions can be filled
  • Provide adequate funding for programs
  • Allow students to take standardized tests in their native language.

Hartford’s superintendent believes these suggestions would help.

“We really welcome this approach that is steeped in research and really takes into account how people learn language and the amount of time it takes,” said Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez.

Education leaders said they’re attempting to get propose a bill with at least some of the recommendations by the end of this session of the legislature.