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Nashville Experiences Language Diversity in Schools
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December 16, 2010, 10:04 PM
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This story is a reminder that every state is a border state now. In Nashville, the traditional home of country music, 22 percent of the city’s K-12 students are English learners. Overwhelmed California has only slightly more, at 24 percent.

In addition, Nashville has had a problem with violent Kurdish gangs, as I wrote in 2007: What The New York Times Didn’t Tell You About Nashville’s Kurdish Gangs, another product of diverse immigration.

But today’s topic is how many kids require English language acquisition in the schools. Interestingly, the reporter noted the hiring of seven translators and the creation of a multicultural outreach department, but no dollar figure is given for what all this diversity is costing local taxpayers.

The Bible considered language diversity a curse from God, as told in the story about the Tower of Babel, shown below.

Nashville schools expand help for English Learners, The Tennessean, December 15, 2010

Nearly a third of Tennessee students whose native languages are something other than English are sitting in Metro Nashville Public School classrooms.

English Learners are the district’s quickest growing student population, now about 22 percent of Metro’s 78,000 students.

Spanish speakers make up more than 10,000 of the 17,000 English Learner population. But students who speak Arabic to Amharic, a language in Ethiopia, also are served in the district.

The uptick has Metro hiring seven more translators, starting a multicultural outreach department modeled after one used in Denver schools and sending English Learning students to their zoned schools, which starting next school year will all offer programs to meet their needs. Before, the students were sent to the school with the program best tailored to help them, often too far for their parents to ever be involved.

Some of the changes were made based on recommendations from George Washington University, which studied Metro’s program for English Language Learners a year ago.

�There are 38,000 Limited English Proficient students (in the state), and of those we have 29 percent in Metro Nashville Public Schools,� said Nicole Chaput Guizani, the district’s executive director for the office of English Learners. �The way we’re moving now, we’re including English Learners across the board … they no longer belong to just the English Learner office. They belong to every teacher and every administrator.�

Memphis City schools, followed by Rutherford County schools have the next-highest English Learner populations, she said.

Metro Director of Schools Jesse Register has made improving the department one of nine focuses for reform in the district.

Another reason for the push to improve services is that the school district is accountable under the federal No Child Left Behind law to ensure English Learners meet reading and math goals on state exams, just like the overall student population, and low-income, minority and students with disability populations.

That is challenging for Metro, which had achievement gaps in 2008 on graduation rates, with 57 percent of English Learners graduating compared with 73 percent for all Metro students. [. . .]

And on high school state exams, 67 percent of students limited in English proficiency scored proficient or advanced in reading, compared with the state average of 76 percent for that same population.