Skip Navigation
We use cookies to offer you a better browsing experience, provide ads, analyze site traffic, and personalize content. If you continue to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies.

English Language Learners: What you need to know

NEA is actively addressing the complex issues English language learners face by engaging in research and advocacy, and proposing strategies that can help eliminate gaps in achievement.
Published: June 23, 2020

Achievement gaps between English language learners (ELLs) and non-ELL students are deeply rooted, pervasive, complex, and challenging for National Education Association affiliates and members. 

The good news is that NEA is actively addressing the complex issues by engaging in research and advocacy and proposing strategies that we can pursue individually and collectively to help eliminate those gaps.

What do schools need to effectively address ELL students. Schools need the following to effectively address ELL students?

Schools need to promote: 

  • A research-based process for the effective teaching of ELLs
  • Curriculum design and lesson planning based on sound pedagogical principles, practices, and high standards
  • Strategic methods for making grade-level materials and resources comprehensible for ELLs
  • Research-based training on theory, culture, diversity, social status, and policy of language acquisition
  • Training, technical assistance, and/or funding for programs and services for ELL students
  • Advocacy that will increase awareness as to the coalitions that support educators who work with ELLs
  • Resources that will help educators learn more about effective, differentiated teaching strategies specifically addressing ELLs.

How can I effectively partner with ELL families and communities? 

All families want the best education for their children, and ELL families are no different. English Language Learners of all ethnicities cite education as a priority for their children, and for the majority of Hispanics—the largest group of ELLs in the nation—education outranked every other issue on national surveys.

Families are your most valuable allies for advocating for the rights of ELL students. Use the following advocacy strategies as helpful starting points for partnering with ELL families and communities. 

Be open to different forms of parental engagement. Families are involved in their childrens’ education in a variety of ways. Offer them a variety of opportunities for being involved. 

Don’t forget about extended families. Extended families and community members often play a significant role in the lives of English language learners. Welcome them into the classroom and at school events. 

Increase families’ comfort levels being at school. Provide programs that directly benefit them (e.g., free English classes, information about immigrant rights or community services).

Recognize and eliminate barriers to family involvement. Identify ways the school can support families participating in school activities and events by providing services like childcare, transportation to and from events, interpreters, dinner, flexible meeting times, and dual language resources. 

Build relationships with family and community. Developing trusting and respectful relationships with parents will go a long way toward helping ELL students succeed in school. Many districts have launched home visit programs as a way to enhance parent-teacher communication, help teachers learn more about their students, bridge cultural gaps, and show parents and students how much teachers care. Participating in local community events also helps show you are invested in the life of the community and helps inspire trust.

Immigration status matters. Recognize that families of ELLs may be dealing with various factors associated with their immigration status. They may have feelings of dislocation and unfamiliarity with cultural and institutional norms. Take care in the type of information you request, and contact the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for guidance in navigating this issue.

Use multiple ways of communication. Ask families what form of communication works best for them: email, notes home, phone calls, face-to-face school drop-off or pick-up. Communicate in families’ preferred language if possible. If this is not possible, find a trusted, bilingual interpreter who can accompany you to a meeting and whom you feel would be comfortable around parents. 

Learn about your ELLs’ families. Allow your students to do projects that help you gain insights into their family and cultural backgrounds. Encourage families to come to the classroom and share one aspect of their culture. Let the family member and the student be the experts. 

Share resources and your expectations for students with families. Give all parents information about opportunities that will help ensure their children don’t make harmful decisions or fall behind academically. Start sharing information early (e.g., talk about college planning in junior high so families know the type of coursework required). 

Make sure parents know their rights. Rights for parents of ELLs are often an amalgamation of district, state, and federal requirements. Identify and share resources that will help parents understand and exercise their rights in proactive ways, not just when faced with an issue.

Are you an affiliate?

Jump to updates, opportunities, and resources for NEA state and local affiliates.
Librarian leans over seated students at the library who are reading a book

Education News Relevant to You

We're here to help you succeed in your career, advocate for public school students, and stay up to date on the latest education news and trends. Browse stories by topic, access the latest issue of NEA Today magazine, and celebrate educators and public schools.
National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.