A recently published case study by the Federation For American Immigration Reform (FAIR) “English Language Learners and Immigration: A Case Study- Clark and Washoe Counties” focuses on the cost of educating English Learners in Nevada. The study highlights the rapid increase of English Language Learners (ELLs) in Clark and Washoe counties who struggle with obtaining proficiency on standardized tests while depleting the resources available to fund education programs for native born students. Because of this, both counties failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under No Child Left Behind thus ensuring an “under-performing schools” designation for the state’s entire public school system. Given that Nevada does not allocate funds specifically for ELLs, the cost for English Learner programs comes from the general education fund. As English Learners continue to struggle with standardized assessments, it is likely that additional public resources will be needed for them which divert funding for the children of Native-born residents. What’s the solution according to FAIR? To create stronger federal enforcement to bring overall reductions of immigrants to the state.

There are serious concerns with the manner in which the research was carried out, as well as the conclusions that were drawn from it.

Very Limited Research Question – The case study simply does not go far enough in its research methods. The purpose of the study is based on one question: Does educating ELLs cost a lot of money? When you speak about students with any specific needs, yes, it is going to require particular resources (education equity). However, the study does not make any mention of the curriculum practices being employed in Nevada to educate ELL children and youth. While education spending is one item, no details are given in terms of what exactly is being done with the allocation of resources.

While the report wrongfully places the responsibility on ELL students for lacking proficiency on standardized assessments, the study ignores the type ELL instruction that this student population is currently receiving. Clearly something is not working in the instruction of ELL students, which should prompt a discussion on best practices for ELLs in Nevada. Furthermore, how about a discussion on appropriate assessments for ELLs?

AYP – The study cites that 94% of EL students are enrolled in either Clark or Washoe county schools. If this is the case, then it is completely inaccurate to attach the educational achievement levels of Nevada based solely on the performance of ELLs in two counties. The study attempts to do this with the reference to Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) by noting that ELLs lack of proficiency on tests negatively impacts AYP, which therefore ensures that a poor designation for the state. This is untrue – AYP is a designation of academic progress for individual schools and school districts, not states. So, to attribute the academic woes of all public schools in Nevada entirely to the performance of EL students is highly problematic. When calculating AYP you need to look at the whole picture: the test scores of all students, but attitionally mention if native-born students are facing any academic challenges as well.

Cost-Benefit Analysis without the Benefit – While the report weighs the cost of educating EL students, there is no mention of the future benefits that are to be gained by effectively educating this student population. There is no discussion of closing the academic achievement gap, having ELLs graduate from high school while being college and career ready, or earning a college degree that ultimately increases their earning capacity as working professionals. English Learners are more likely to contribute significantly to the American economy as adults if we can effectively educate them today.

In the end, FAIR offers a solution from a different policy area order to address an issue within K-12 education which does not produce any viable solutions to the current situation in Nevada’s schools. Curbing overall immigration flows does nothing for the English Learners that are already enrolled in our schools. Educational equity is not defined by giving everyone the same thing; rather, it is defined by giving students what they each need in order to strive academically. The research would have been much more valuable if it focused on how available resources that can produce most effective practices and programs to help address diverse student needs (for both ELLs and native-born students alike).

For more information on equity in education for ELLs: