passing the mandated tests. To successfully compete with
newly emerging education powerhouses in Europe and Asia,
the United States must make good on its promise of equal
access to education and high-quality instruction for all.
Transitioning to College
For Jose, his family, and other English language learners,
the endgame is not passing state exams—it’s attending and
graduating from college. Community colleges recognize
the challenge this dream presents for low-income students
and students of color. In 2004, a consortium of community
colleges decided to explore innovations that held the most
promise for student retention and achievement, forming an
It is essential that school
© Steve Hix/SomoS imageS/CorbiS
personnel guide the family
in postsecondary planning.
organization called Achieving the Dream ( www.achieving
For students like Jose who begin their education career in
thedream.org). The network now includes 130 community
a two-year institution, the statistics are even more negative;
colleges. One of its key goals is fostering alignment between
approximately 45 percent of students exit without a certificate K– 12 education and postsecondary institutions, creating
or degree. Race and ethnicity play a further role—Hispanic
K– 16 cohesion.
students fare worse than their white counterparts. For Jose,
School districts play an equally significant role in sup-
whose parents had dreamed of a bright future for their son,
porting secondary to postsecondary transitions for students
the dream was an unlikely scenario.
who have traditionally had low rates of college completion.
Unfortunately, the cost to districts of supporting secondary
of School Success
ELLs through the transition doesn’t come cheaply. On the
other hand, not supplying them with college-ready skills
What is the endgame for English language learners (ELLs)?
comes at an even greater cost to the United States and its
What do we want them to achieve—and, more important,
taxpayers. When college freshmen are not prepared with the
whose game is it, ours or theirs? In recent years, the endgame academic skills they need to learn the core curriculum, reme-
has been defined by federal policy and local school districts as diation to increase writing, reading, and math skills creates a
meeting achievement targets and evading the stigma of poor
fiscal and emotional drain, both on tax-supported institutions
scores on state assessments. Districts with large numbers of
and on the new college students themselves. According to the
linguistically diverse students are frequently blamed for the
Alliance for Excellent Education (2006), “taxpayers provide
achievement (or lack thereof) of English language learners
about a billion dollars a year to cover the direct and indirect
who fail to move beyond basic levels of literacy and math.
But adolescent ELLs do not form a neat and tidy cohort.
Rather, the cohort is marked more by its differences than its
instructional costs of remedial courses, through the sub-
sidies which community colleges receive from state and local
similarities. Some learners are new immigrants; others are
For many ELLs entering college, the cost is also high.
long-term English language learners who are challenged by
It means added semesters of schooling and tuition before
academic literacy. The best programs, in both cases, respond entering a degree program, a greater likelihood of dropping
to life circumstances, academic background and needs, and
student and family goals (Rance-Roney, 2009).
out before degree completion, and a sense of anger and
frustration that even though these youth have earned a high