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Double the Work: Challenges and Solutions to Acquiring Language and Academic Literacy for Adolescent English Language Learners

Summary: Adolescent English Language Learners (ELLs), who must simultaneously learn English and age–appropriate subject material, perform double the work of their native language peers because they are held to the same grade-level standards for academic literacy. Moreover, the ELL population is comprised of a diverse range of learners who vary dramatically in their existing literacy levels, native languages, and cultural and educational backgrounds. This report is the effort of a panel of researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to address six main challenges to improving academic literacy among ELLs, as well as proposed solutions and policy implications.

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Tags: Curriculum; Fluency; Instructional Programs; Intervention; Language Proficiency; Struggling Readers;

Short, D., & Fitzsimmons, S. (2007). Double the Work: Challenges and solutions to acquiring language and academic literacy for adolescent English language learners– A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Leading Inclusive ELL: Social Justice Leadership for English Language Learners

Author: George Theoharis, Joanne O'Toole

Summary: This article attempts to build a better understanding of the leadership necessary to create socially just schools for English language learners (ELLs). To achieve this, it reports on the instrumental case studies of two urban elementary schools and the principals involved in school reform that resulted in inclusive ELL services.

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Target Population: Elementary School

Research Questions the Report Poses:

  • In what ways do principals create asset–based, collaborative, and inclusive learning opportunities and services for ELLs?
  • What do varying approaches of these services and the leadership necessary look like in practice?


  • The first principal led her school to adopt a dual certification approach, where the staff engaged in professional development around ELL. They combined federal, state, and local resources to eliminate pullout ELL programs and reduce class size so elementary teachers would take sole responsibility for building community and instructing ELL and all students.
  • The second principal led his school to adopt a coteaching approach where teams of general education and English as a second language (ESL) teachers planned as a team and cotaught all students. They eliminated pullout ELL services and focused on community building, professional development, and collaboration.
  • Student achievement at both schools, and in particular the achievement of ELL students, greatly improved, as did the connection with ELL families. The cross–case analysis provides a comparison between the cases of inclusive ESL reform.

Policy Recommendations:
The authors propose implications for school leaders that build on the literature, social justice leadership, and the work of the principals, staffs, and communities at the schools from the case studies described here.

To order a hard copy of the report, contact:
This article requires a subscription to Educational Administration Quarterly.

Theoharis, G., O'Toole, J. (2011). "Leading Inclusive ELL: Social Justice Leadership for English Language Learners." Journal of Leadership for Effective & Equitable Organizations.

Similar English Learner Students, Different Results: Why Do Some Schools Do Better?

Author: EdSource, Stanford University, American Institutes for Research, WestEd


A major new analysis of California elementary school performance has identified four educational practices associated with higher performance among elementary English Learner (EL) students. According to the study released in May at the Education Writers Association annual meeting in Los Angeles, schools that engage in all four practices have, on average, the highest academic achievement among English Learner students.

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Tags: Curriculum; Instructional Programs; Language Proficiency; Latino ELL Students;

Target Population: Elementary, Middle, High School

Research Questions the Report Poses: "Why do California elementary schools serving similar proportions of low-income, Spanish speaking EL students differ by over 250 points on California's new EL Academic Performance Index score? What school practices can help explain this API gap?"


  • One practice strongly correlated with a higher EL-API among our sample of elementary schools was the extensive use of student assessment data by the district and the principal in an effort to improve instruction and student learning.
  • EL-API performance was higher in schools where principals reported that a larger proportion of their teaching staff had qualities such as a demonstrated ability to raise student achievement, strong content knowledge, and others.
  • Higher EL-API was correlated with schools in which teachers reported most strongly that there is school-wide instructional consistency within grades, curricular alignment from grade-to-grade, and that instruction is based upon state academic standards.
  • A shared culture within the school regarding the value of improving student achievement and a sense of shared responsibility for it seems to distinguish the higher performing schools in our sample based on EL—APIs.
  • A school's outreach to parents, encouragement of teacher collaboration, and enforcement of positive student behaviors (like attendance and tolerance) have long been recognized as important contributors to the student and professional culture at a school.

Policy Recommendations:

  • California should "stay the course with its reforms" to make sure that "curriculum programs and state standards tests are well aligned with the state's academic standards."
  • School districts need to provide "better assessment and other data on their students in easy-to-access formats"
  • Hire more administrators to try to adjust the highest-in-the-nation pupil-to-administrator ratio in the country
  • Professional development needs to provided to ensure that teachers have the resources they need to effectively combat the challenges that educating ELL students provides

To order a hard copy of the report, contact:

Williams, T., Hakuta, K., Haertel, E., et al. (2007). Similar English Learner Students, Different Results: Why Do Some Schools Do Better? A follow-up analysis, based on a large-scale survey of California elementary schools serving low-income and EL students. Mountain View, CA: EdSource.

Succeeding With English Language Learners: Lessons Learned from the Great City Schools

Author: The Council of the Great City Schools Authors: Amanda Rose Horwitz; Gabriela Uro; Ricki Price-Baugh; Candace Simon; Renata Uzzell; Sharon Lewis; Michael Casserly

Summary: This study examines district-level ELL policies and practices as well as the historical, administrative, and programmatic contexts of four school systems with ELL student achievement growth between 2002 and 2006. This growth is contrasted with two districts with minimal growth in ELL achievement. The authors' exploration of instructional reform strategies sheds light on the experiences of large urban districts and highlights specific strategies for reform while underscoring the differences between the districts with improvements for ELL students and those without.

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Tags: Language Proficiency;

Target Population: K-12 Urban Districts

Research Questions the Report Poses:

  • Can we identify school districts that have experienced improved student achievement among ELLs?
  • What is the historical, administrative, and programmatic context within which ELL student achievement is improving in these districts?
  • What district-level strategies are being used to improve ELL student achievement and reduce disparities between ELL and non-ELLs?
  • What is the connection between policies, practices, and strategies at the district level and actual changes in teaching and learning experienced by ELLs in their schools and classrooms?
  • In what ways do the experiences and strategies of improving districts differ from those of school systems that serve similar populations, but that have yet to make similar progress?


Contextual Features

  • Shared Vision for Reform
  • Leadership and Advocacy on Behalf of ELLs
  • Empowerment of the ELL Office
  • External Forces as Catalyst for Reforms

Promising Practices

  • Comprehensive Planning and Adoption of Language Development Strategies for ELLs
  • Extensive and Continuous Support for Implementation
  • A Culture of Collaboration and Shared Accountability
  • Hybrid Models of Instructional Management and Local Empowerment
  • Strategic School Staffing
  • High Quality, Relevant Professional Development
  • The Use of Student Data
  • Reallocation and Strategic Use of ELL Funds

Limiting Factors

  • No Coherent Vision or Strategy for the Instruction of ELLs System-wide
  • Site-Based Management without Support, Oversight, or Explicit Accountability for Student Progress
  • Lack of Access to the General Curriculum
  • No Systematic Use of Disaggregated Student Data
  • Inconsistent Leadership
  • No Systemic Efforts to Build ELL Staff Capacity
  • Compartmentalization of ELL Departments and Staff
  • The ELL Office Lacked Capacity and Authority

Policy Recommendations:

Contextual Recommendations

  • Develop clear instructional vision and high expectations for ELLs
  • Approach external pressure to improve services for ELLs and other students as an asset rather than a liability
  • Incorporate accountability for ELLs organizationally into the broader instructional operation of the school district
  • Empower strong ELL program administrators to oversee progress
  • Pursue community support for initiatives designed to accelerate achievement among English language learners

Strategic and Instructional Recommendations

  • Review general education and ELL programs to ensure that there is an explicit focus on building academic literacy and cultivating English language development
  • Ensure that all teachers of ELLs have access to high quality professional development that provides differentiated instructional strategies, promotes the effective use of student assessment data, and develops skills for supporting second-language acquisition across the curriculum
  • Assess district standards for hiring, placing, and retaining teachers, paraprofessionals, and staff members who work directly with ELLs to ensure that these students have access to highly qualified personnel
  • Conduct a comprehensive assessment of the level of access that ELLs have to the entire spectrum of district course offerings, including gifted and talented programs and special education
  • Ensure that resources generated by and allocated for English language learners are properly and effectively expended to provide quality ELL instruction and services
  • Develop a system for tracking multiple measures of ELLs' educational progress

To order a hard copy of the report, contact:
The Council of the Great City Schools 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Suite 702 Washington, DC 20004 202-393-2427 202-393-2400 (fax)

Horowitz, A.R., et al. (2009). Succeeding with English Language Learners: Lessons learned from the Great City Schools. Washington, D.C.: The Council of the Great City Schools.