Issues of Equity and Access in the (Distance) Education of Multilingual Learners

By Christine Montecillo Leider, Johanna Tigert, and Michaela Colombo

As the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered public schools this spring, educators mounted a Herculean effort to move instruction and assessment online.  Reflecting back on the spring of remote learning – and anticipating its continuation in the fall – as educators we need to ask ourselves: How can we prioritize the needs of multilingual learners during remote instruction? While the pandemic changed the schooling experience for all students, the onset of distance learning exacerbated existing inequities in education and ignited long overdue conversations about historically marginalized students in public schools. As teacher educators working with multilingual students, we worry that these and other inequities have hit this student population especially hard. 

Multilingual learners, in general, are among the most vulnerable of our students. As such, health, safety, and well-being should always be at the forefront – and many schools and school systems responded to these needs.  Assuming basic needs are met to the best of their ability, schools can turn their efforts to curriculum and instruction, which also present challenges. Multilingual learners and families can face communication barriers due to language as well as access issues related to the digital divide.  For the nearly 5 million classified English Learners (ELs) in U.S. public schools, however, distance education is not just about having access to technology or translation services, it’s about access to language and content. 

Specifically in Massachusetts, multilingual students who are ELs are entitled to receive both English instruction delivered by an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, and content instruction delivered by Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) endorsed teachers. Both forms of instruction are crucial as they provide support for developing academic English and access to the general curriculum. However, conversations about remote learning have largely ignored these issues and instead, focused on students’ access to technology. As a response, the education world churned out myriad resource lists and instructional suggestions for teaching online. These resources are useful, but their narrow focus on instructional technology has masked the ever-present issues of educational parity for multilingual learners, especially those who are classified as ELs.  Those of us who work with this population of students know that even in the best of times content teachers lack training to work with ELs, there are simply not enough ESL teachers to bridge the gap, and instructional technologies most often used with these students are not designed with them in mind

We’ve seen these same inequities play out during the pandemic: few of the resources published over the spring address multilingual learners’ needs specifically, and guidance for teachers has come too little, too late. It took until May 18th for a guidance document on serving ELs to be added to the US Department of Education resource page for remote/distance learning. Until then, the only guidance at the federal level appeared in the March 16th DoE fact sheet on protecting students’ civil rights, which mainly discussed services for students with disabilities. (News flash: like special education, specialized instruction for ELs is a civil right mandated by federal law). Unfortunately, this does not come as a surprise: too often, we have seen EL education treated as an “add-on” in the physical school building and it has also appeared to be merely an afterthought in the world of remote instruction. 

Multilingual students need instruction that addresses both content learning and English language development. The bigger problem here is that most teachers were not prepared to do this even before the pandemic. Strategies such as differentiation, scaffolding, and sheltering are effective when enacted by well-trained teachers – even in an online environment. As schools and districts begin to make decisions on instructional delivery for the fall, let’s focus on improving teachers’ readiness to meet the needs of multilingual learners in any environment. Teacher preparedness is the key to offering multilingual students opportunities to participate meaningfully and equally in educational programs as their civil rights demand. 


Christine Montecillo Leider is Clinical Assistant Professor of Language Education and Program Director of Bilingual Education and TESOL-Licensure at the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University.

Johanna Tigert is an Assistant Professor of Education at the College of Education at UMass Lowell.

Michaela Colombo is Professor Emeritus in the College of Education at UMass Lowell.

Drs. Leider, Tigert, and Colombo co-lead the MATSOL Teacher Educators SIG.

Introduction to Online Classrooms and Best Practices

Video

Watch the recorded presentation to learn some of the best practices MATSOL has developed while hosting online meetings. Members can also download all materials that were used during this presentation. If you have tips or resources that you like to use, please share on the Padlet link provided!


Materials from the presentation:
PowerPoint Presentation
Zoom Meeting Procedures
Shared Padlet

Thank you to all who came to the live presentation. Our intention is to help and we hope this does!

Free Multilingual Online Libraries

Multilingual online books that can be accessed for free.

Free Multilingual Online Libraries

  • Unite for Literacy: Early Learning eBooks: More than 100 original ebooks carefully crafted to connect with young children and their families. Books are written in English and include audio narration in English and 28 languages.
  • Worldstories: A growing collection of short stories including retold traditional tales and new short stories from around the world. The stories can be read and listened to online, or downloaded and they’re all free!
  • International Children’s Online Library: A searchable library of digital children’s books in more than 50 languages.
  • Rosetta Project: Books in Multiple Languages: Digital books in more than 40 languages.
  • Epic!: Completely free for teachers and librarians, Epic!  is a digital reading platform for kids ages 12 and under. Epic! offers more than 35,000 thousand high-quality and award-winning fiction and nonfiction books, audio books, and videos from 250 publishers. Books in English and Spanish.

For Parents

Multilingual COVID-19 Information

Health Information

Resource Lists for Schools

For Kids: “Why can’t I go to school?”

Sick Time Policy

  • Fact sheets on Mass Earned Sick Time policy: Most workers in Massachusetts have the right to earn and use up to 40 hours of job-protected sick time per year to take care of themselves and certain family members. Workers must earn at least one hour of earned sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Scroll down for fact sheets in multiple languages.
  • https://www.mass.gov/info-details/earned-sick-time

Links & Resources – Nov 2018

Become a MATSOL Member to receive our links and resources in MATSOL’s monthly e-bulletin! 

  • 6 Facts about English Learners in U.S. Public Schools
  • iDod Fact Sheets: Data on immigrants, customized for you
  • The School-to-Deportation Pipeline
  • Joining Together to Create a Bold Vision for Next-Generation Family Engagement: Engaging Families to Transform Education
  • Video Snapshot: See How One Monolingual Teacher Supports Many Dual Language Learners!

INTERACTIVE FACT SHEET
6 Facts about English Learners in U.S. Public Schools

There were nearly 5 million English language learners in U.S. public schools in fall 2015, according to the most recent available data from the National Center for Education Statistics. This represented 9.5% of U.S. public school enrollees, an increase from 8.1% in 2000. View fact sheet…

RESOURCE
iDod Fact Sheets: Data on immigrants, customized for you 

Immigration Data on Demand (iDod) provides academics, policy-makers, and the public with unbiased and objective information related to immigrants and immigration in the United States. This service is provided, free of charge, to help individuals and institutions examine the immigrant populations of their particular geography. From George Mason University. View resource…

REPORT
The School-to-Deportation Pipeline

As immigration enforcement becomes more aggressive, schools have become increasingly risky places for undocumented students. From Teaching Tolerance. View resource…

REPORT 
Joining Together to Create a Bold Vision for Next-Generation Family Engagement: Engaging Families to Transform Education

Commissioned by Carnegie Corporation of New York this report is intended to spark a conversation around the power of family, school, and community engagement. The paper begins with a challenge, namely: How do we work with families and communities to co-create the next generation of family and community engagement, providing equitable learning pathways—both in and out of school and from birth to young adulthood—that will enable all children to be successful in the 21st century? View resource…

RESOURCE
Video Snapshot: See How One Monolingual Teacher Supports Many Dual Language Learners!

In this snapshot, we focus on Albert, who is learning two languages at school. We see just how the monolingual teacher, who speaks English only, provides support—in English and in Spanish! View resource…

Resources for National Hispanic Heritage Month

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National Hispanic Heritage Month takes place from September 14th through October 15th. Here are some selected teaching resource links for your perusal: