Breaking the Language Barrier: A Report on English Language Services in Greater Boston

by Andrea Tull; Cristine Smith; John Comings; Katherine Shields; Lisa Soricone; Lynne Sacks; Navjeet Singh

Mar 3, 2011
Assesses Massachusetts' English for Speakers of Other Languages system, demand and supply for services, their quantity and quality, and challenges such as lack of coordination. Recommends ways to reduce gaps in services and raise efficiency and quality.
  • Increase Intensive Services. To date, only a limited number of programs offer intensive services to new Limited English Proficient (LEP) immigrants or individuals between periods of full-time employment.
  • Coordinate services to provide greater differentiation and reduce duplication. Currently, too many programs attempt to offer a full sequence of services to their students and too often, classes mix students at different skill levels or life stages with divergent goals for learning.
  • Increase weekend and summer classes. English as a second language (ESOL) programs in Greater Boston offer very few ESOL classes on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and most are closed for many weeks during the school system's summer break.
  • Use technology to fill gaps and promote self-directed learning. Without a significant influx of funding, it is unlikely that the current system can provide classroom-based or even one-on-one volunteer instruction to all who seek to improve their English skills.
  • Provide a full continuum of services to support students at higher levels of ESOL. Current federal policy restricts the use of funds for ESOL learners who enter programs at SPL levels of 7 or 8. This leaves many students with skill levels that are inadequate to advance in their work lives, pursue post-secondary education or even qualify for transition to college services.
  • Changes in Policy - These changes in program practice will require policy modifications at federal and state levels.
  • Increase supports to student persistence. Efforts must be strengthened to support the continuation of adult learning within and beyond classroom settings.
  • Expand ESOL services in and for the workplace. One important way to support student persistence and improve the economic opportunities of adult students is to make ESOL services available at or near their places of work and aligned with advancement opportunities at work.
  • Increase support for post-secondary success. If they are to be economically successful, ESOL students must prepare themselves to be successful in post-secondary education and training.
  • Support integrated ESOL and occupational training. Among the new frontiers of innovation in ESOL programming is the development of services that integrate language instruction with occupational skills training at a much lower level than in years past, where beginning-level English was focused strictly on "survival English."
  • Improve the capacity of the teaching workforce to maximize results. ESOL teachers in the Boston area are a highly educated group of professionals.
  • Expand distance learning capacity and innovation. Technology assisted programs provide a means for increasing access but may also facilitate improved quality and efficiency.
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