ELL connection

New network launches to highlight policies impacting Tennessee’s immigrant students

PHOTO: Susan Gonzalez
A school library accommodates a growing population of immigrant students who are English language learners.

Tennessee’s growing immigrant population has spawned a network for educators, parents and advocates of students who are learning to speak English.

And the timing couldn’t be better, say its organizers, citing heightened concern for immigrant communities under President-elect Donald Trump, who campaigned on the promise of curbing immigration.

The Tennessee English Learner Network launched last week and had 130 members as of Tuesday, said Gini Pupo-Walker, senior director of education policy and strategic growth for Conexión Américas, a nonprofit organization that serves the state’s immigrant community. The Nashville-based group is partnering with Migration Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based research center, to coordinate the network.

The network will serve as a clearinghouse of policy and research related to English learners, which comprise 5 percent of Tennessee’s student population. 

Although the network has been in the works for months, organizers say Trump’s election makes it more necessary than ever.

“I think post-election people are really hungry for an opportunity to connect and be part something bigger than their own classroom, so they can amplify their voice … on behalf of immigrant students,” Pupo-Walker said.

The initiative is funded by a grant from the Migration Policy Institute to educate community members about the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal education law that replaces No Child Left Behind. The network’s launch coincided with a webinar about provisions of the new law that could impact English learners, like how their standardized test scores might count in the state’s accountability system.

Earlier this year, Conexión Américas helped to found the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition, a group of civil rights organizations and education-related groups seeking more educational opportunities for students of color.

Tennesseans can register here to be part of the network. 

moving on up

With Holcomb’s support, Indiana’s next education plan heads to Washington

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Gov. Eric Holcomb address lawmakers and the public during his State of the State Address earlier this year. Today, he signed off on Indiana's ESSA plan.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has given his stamp of approval to Indiana’s next education plan under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

In a tweet Monday afternoon, state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick thanked Holcomb for his support:

Holcomb was required to weigh in on the plan, but his approval wasn’t necessary for it to move forward. If he disagreed with the changes proposed by McCormick and the Indiana Department of Education, he could have indicated that today.

So far, it seems that the state’s top education policymakers — Holcomb, McCormick and the Indiana State Board of Education — have reached some level of consensus on how to move forward.

The state has worked for months to revamp its accountability system and educational goals to align with ESSA, which Congress passed in 2015.

Although there are many similarities between this plan and the previous plan under the No Child Left Behind waiver, several changes affect state A-F grades. Going forward, they will factor in measures that recognize the progress of English-learners and measures not solely based on test scores, such as student attendance.

However, the new plan also alters the state’s graduation rate formula to match new federal requirements, a change that has a number of educators, policymakers and parents worried because it means students who earn a general diploma no longer count as graduates to the federal government.

You can read more about the specifics of the state plan in our ESSA explainer and see all of our ESSA coverage here.

Politics & Policy

Over pulled pork, rural Indiana parents make the case to Betsy DeVos that public schools are important

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Betsy DeVos met with families at Eastern Hancock High School.

At Eastern Hancock High School in rural Indiana, the hog roast is an annual tradition.

This year, the event was also a chance to show off a thriving traditional public school to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who often highlights private and charter schools and advocates for school choice.

“We wanted to make sure that she understands the importance of public education,” said Natalie Schilling, a parent of two students at Eastern Hancock.

Schilling and her husband, Eric, had the chance to share their perspective sitting with DeVos over pulled pork sandwiches in the high school cafeteria. They were surrounded by families grabbing food ahead of a football game between Eastern Hancock and rival Knightstown. DeVos was there, she said, for a great game.

The visit was the conclusion of a six-state trip branded as the “Rethink Schools” tour. On the tour, DeVos visited several schools serving unusual populations, such as an Indianapolis high school for students recovering from addiction and a Colorado private school for students with autism.

“It was really, really exciting to see all these opportunities that kids have to learn in different environments or different approaches,” she said. “It just once again reaffirms to me the importance of the opportunity for every child to find that right niche for them.”

Earlier Friday DeVos stopped at charter schools in Gary and Indianapolis. But Eastern Hancock was the only traditional public school on her itinerary in Indiana.

Eastern Hancock, however, has been reshaped by school choice policies like those that DeVos has long supported. Indiana allows open enrollment, so students can attend schools in neighboring districts if they can get transportation. At Eastern Hancock, DeVos noted, many students come from other districts.

Eric Schilling said many of those students come because of the strong agriculture programs at the school, including an animal science facility and horticulture building.

The hog roast Friday night was a fundraiser for FFA, an agricultural education program. Students in the organization spent months planning the event, roasted the hogs and pulled the pork themselves, said Gracie Johnson, a senior at Eastern and the chapter and district president of FFA.

It was a little bit thrilling to have secretary DeVos visit her school, Johnson said. “I think it’s pretty awesome. Especially since we’re so small, it kind of makes us feel like we’re important.”

Natalie Schilling said that one of the most important things DeVos can do is support agricultural and career and technical education. But she said that she was a bit concerned about DeVos’ past experience and agenda.

“I think everybody is a little worried,” she said. “We have to keep talking about it and keep pushing it so she will understand what skills students are learning. It’s going to be able to fuel the workforce.”