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California’s large urban school districts are failing to consistently provide quality instruction to students with limited English language proficiency, according to Patricia Gardara, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

“The large urban districts tend to have highly disproportionate poverty, transiency, and urban problems, which must be dealt with in addition to the regular instructional challenges,” Gardara told The Hechinger Report’s Pat Wingert.

That’s a problem The Council of the Great City Schools wants to fix. The group, which represents 67 of the country’s largest school districts, recently released a guide to help administrators and teachers change how they teach English language learners (ELLs) in their districts to complement Common Core. The guide is part instructional framework, part checklist for what to look for in instructional materials.

Related: Common Core can help English learners in California, new study says

While the guide is agnostic on how ELL students are provided with English proficiency instruction – whether they receive services through stand-alone English as a Second Language classes or as part of English language arts classes shared with English proficient students – the guide is explicit about what the new standards must mean for teachers throughout the school building.

Common Core and ELL students
Emmanuel Angeles, raises his hand to be called on while doing a worksheet in an English Language Learner summer school class at the Cordova Villa Elementary School in Rancho Cordova, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

It calls for teachers in all subjects, not just English class, to learn how to teach their ELL students English language literacy. The idea is that math, English, social studies and science teachers will be providing students with not only subject area content but also with discipline-specific and academic English literacy lessons.
The guide argues that doing this “deepens a student’s understanding of how language can be used for diverse purposes and in different ways.”

Related: With new standards, will California’s youngest English learners lose their edge in math?

As for textbooks and other educational materials, the checklist outlines dozens of metrics districts should consider when buying textbooks, software and other curricula. While the considerations are comprehensive – Are the materials culturally sensitive? Do they come with materials for teacher development? – at its core the guide tells districts to ask companies for the evidence that the resources will provide English language learners with rigorous, grade-level appropriate materials.

Related: In California, a fairly easy transition to Common Core

While representatives from urban school districts across the country crafted the guide, California was well represented on the panel. Just abut half of the guide’s 29 contributors hailed from California districts.

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