Myth: Charter schools don’t serve English Language Learners (ELLs).
Fact: ALL charter schools must comply with state and federal requirements in serving ELLs and some even have a lottery preference for English Language Learners.
Take, for example, Central Queens Academy Charter School (CQA). School founder Suyin So was focused on students whose parents don’t speak English at home when she started the charter school. Central Queens Academy was designed with a focus on English Language Learners so much so that CQA offers an explicit admission preference for them. What this means is that 30% of CQA’s seats are specifically set aside for ELLs.
Busting the myth that charters don’t serve ELLs, this percentage exceeds the standard district number.
In New York City – one of the largest school districts in the nation for ELL students – 14% of the students are ELL, according to data from SUNY Albany. High school completion rates for second-language learners are less than half of the general education population.
“There are some staggering statistics regarding English Language Learners,” So told us. “Research shows that students who don’t have a firm grasp on the English language graduate high school ready for college or a career at a rate of less than 6 percent. These are abysmal results for our children – and ELL students are the astest growing student population nationwide. We need to do something to catch these kids before the slip through the cracks.”
So understood the need for ELL students to have more specialized learning because the students have challenges that other children don’t.
“Most of our families—between 70 to 80 percent-- are coming from non-English speaking families. Many speak Spanish, Chinese, Bengali, to name a few. And when they come to us, about 20% of our fifth graders are reading at a second or third grade level,” she said.
Because of these obvious challenges, the school uses intensive doses of literacy instruction to get their children up to speed. Additionally, teachers at CQA spend twice as much time on ELA instruction than the rest of the district.
CQA’s program has been met with high demand; it receives three applications for each seat. The school serves 305 students in grades 5-7.
The school’s work is paying off for its students. In the April 2014 state exam testing, CQA students outperformed New York City, New York State and its host district for both grades 5 and 6. CQA was also recently honored as a Rising Star by the New York Blackboard Awards for Excellence in Education program.
So’s work is demanding but rewarding she said.
“We want to help children learn and we want to believe that charter schools have a place for public education. We have optimism and believe that we can improve the lives of our students.”
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