Supporting Minnesota’s English Learners through collaborations and accountability

By Aara Johnson, Program Director of Multilingual Learners Network

For the past year, MnEEP has partnered with the Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL) on a project to support the effective policies and implementation of the English Learners—Every Student Succeeds Act (EL-ESSA.) This collaboration is part of a larger EL-ESSA Initiative designed to support an equity agenda and ensure the needs of EL students in Minnesota are met under the new policies. While we—MnEEP and CAAL—were the leading advocates on the progress toward English language proficiency indicators and other EL supports, other organizations worked together to develop teacher quality, school improvement, and other accountability measures.

Organizations from Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana, with support from the Joyce Foundation, convened in Chicago on multiple occasions for briefings on ESSA by Education First, and collaborated on new tools for research, engagement, and messaging. We learned about problems and opportunities advocates in other states had discovered, and shared ours. Through these collaborations, the Minnesota coalition developed shared goals for the state’s ESSA plan along with strategies for advocacy during the planning and comment phases.

Last week, the same teams reconvened in Chicago to celebrate the work we have done on ESSA over the past 14 months. We shared our wins, of which there are many, and strategized on how to continue implementation advocacy. We discussed opportunities for working as a coalition with other education advocates to ensure a quality ESSA plan proved successful. We attended committees together and issued joint letters to MDE, voicing our concerns and ambition for authentic educational equity and excellence.

About ESSA and our Recommendations

The Every Student Succeeds Act replaces No Child Left Behind as the federal accountability framework for public schools and districts. For the first time, English Language Proficiency is included in accountability alongside content achievement and growth on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs).

Three years ago, the MN Learning English for Proficiency and Success (LEAPS) Act passed the Minnesota legislature. At the state level, supports for ELs at all levels and by all teachers raise their levels of academic success.

Now, the federal level sees English language proficiency as an important indicator for school accountability. While we at MnEEP advocate for heritage and native language development to support English language development, we celebrate state and federal recognition of the fastest-growing student population in Minnesota.

As the first Program Director for MnEEP’s Emerging Multilingual Learners Network, I am heartened by the many teachers and administrators who work tirelessly to support ELs and see their language background as an educational asset. Their good will is backed up by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on national origin, and provides accessibility to those who do not speak English as a first language.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, of which NCLB and ESSA are reauthorizations, came out of the Civil Rights Act. This base in civil rights drives the supports necessary for students of color and linguistic diversity to succeed academically.

Many education advocates join us in illustrating not only the need to build will around supporting students of color, but also the legal responsibility districts and schools have to provide quality education to all.

Read more about the EL recommendations in our EL-ESSA Policy Brief.