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New Report: English Language Learners in Virginia's Schools Don't Have Sufficient Support

Virginia ranks among the worst states in the country for graduation rates of students who do not speak English as their native language, a group that is more likely to drop out than go to college. A new report identifies some potential solutions.

Many students in Virginia's public schools are not proficient in English, and these English language learners receive insufficient support and have troubling outcomes. That's the conclusion of a new report from the Commonwealth Institute.

Laura Goren is research director at the Commonwealth Institute, and she says Virginia is failing these students.

"Our new report finds that year after year, Virginia underfunds English learner students resulting in lower graduation rates, lower achievement on test scores and lower higher education enrollment," says Goren. "And this has been exacerbated by the pandemic unfortunately."

One potential fix outlined in the report: automatically enroll students with high test scores in advanced courses, giving them an opportunity to opt out instead of opting in. Julie Sugarman at the Migration Policy Institute says that’s a policy fix that's been getting a lot of buzz all over the country.

"It's fairly low-hanging fruit from a policy standpoint because it doesn't require additional money really," Sugarman explains. "It might require some additional training but it's a change of mindset."

The report also outlines a few proposals that would require some investment, including increased training for teachers, dual language programs for students and community schools programs for neighborhoods to receive social services at their local schools.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.