English Learner Advocacy
California is home to the largest population of English Learners in the country, with approximately 1.4 million students in grades K-12, composing 22% of the total K-12 student body in the state. In addition, 65% of all children in California age 5 or under are expected to enter the K-12 system speaking a language other than English. Overall, approximately 85% of English Learners are also low-income compared to 41% of non-EL students— a concentration of poverty that is more than twice the general student population.
The majority of English Learners who enter California’s schools are Spanish speakers followed by Chinese, Vietnamese, and French/Haitian Creole. These children are more likely to drop out of school than their native English-speaking peers. In California, close to half of English learners who enroll in kindergarten are likely to become “Long-Term English Learners” who accrue irreparable academic gaps as they move through school, and never develop the levels of English proficiency necessary for academic success. As the nation implements 21st century Common Core era standards, the urgency of putting into place powerful schooling that prepares English Learners for college and career readiness is greater than ever. Quality early education for these dual language learners that addresses all areas of development — socio-emotional, relational, linguistic, cognitive — is needed to set an early foundation for learning and success.
The Sobrato Family Foundation Board of Directors has approved the development of an integrated strategy that adds and advances statewide systemic change for English Learners connected to and integrated with the successful practice work of the SEAL (Sobrato Early Academic Language) model. This was based on the idea that statewide engagement with a focus on relieving the root causes of inequity for English Learners is the way to address the fact that English Learners have systematically not been a central focus in California’s education system, even though they represent a significant portion of the student population. Through this integrated strategy, SEAL will continue to provide a clear pathway for California to meet the comprehensive English Learner Roadmap Policy. With 10 years of practice and research that demonstrates an effective model, SEAL fosters systems change by transforming more classrooms, schools, and districts, and by advocating for state-level changes that focus on English Learners’ needs.
This work will also build off of the key advancements at the state level that have set the appropriate and supportive conditions for English Learners to succeed. In the last few years, the State has advanced support for English Learners through a number of key policy and program areas. These include the Local Control Funding Formula, California English Language Development Standards, Proposition 58, and The English Learner Roadmap. In particular, the creation and adoption of the English Learner Roadmap has set the course for the sustained efforts that will be required into the future to drive the educational field to most effectively support English Learners. The principles adopted in the English Learner Roadmap embody the knowledge on how to best serve English Learner students, and the policy serves as an overarching framework for our statewide approach.