There will be no teacher's assistants for the Office of English Language Learners (ELL) at Loudoun County Public Schools next year and Indu Radhakrishnan, a junior at Broad Run High School, sees that as a problem.
Radhakrishnan has started a petition that currently has 256 signatures to restore the positions of TAs that are being cut as part of the 2014-2015 budget. She said that the cuts to ELL were due to the lack of advocates for the ELL population.
“There's no one speaking out for these students,” Radhakrishnan said.
The inspiration to start her petition came after she discovered that a TA at Broad Run High School, James Dunning, would be losing his job. While Radhakrishnan has never been in ELL classes herself, Dunning coached her debate team at Broad Run and Radhakrishnan said she's seen the impact that Dunning and other TAs have had on ELL students.
“The TAs are really helping these kids so much more than their job description,” Radhakrishnan said.
The ELL program is designed to provide English language instruction to non-English speaking students in grades K-12. Roughly 130 ELL TAs are being cut, according to Timothy Flynn, LCPS director of instructional services. However he said that they will be replaced by 38 certified ELL teachers who will provide better instruction to students.
“Now they'll be served by actual ELL teachers,” said Flynn. “A licensed ELL certified teacher has at least a bachelor's degree and specialized training in ELL. That's a significant advantage.”
Radhakrishnan said that she worries that the additional ELL teachers won't be able to make up for the loss of the TAs, especially if the increased number of teachers don't also make up for those teachers lost due to natural attrition.
“That's a huge logistical problem they're going to have next year,” said Radhakrishnan. “They failed to provide any support to schools that will be left floundering without them.”
ELL operates by having self-sustained classes taught by ELL teachers to help students with either minimal or non-existent English skills. Students with increased English skills are then mixed in to regular classes. The self-sustained classes are taught by full-time ELL teachers and ELL TAs either assist in these classes or aid the ELL students placed in regular classes.
While Dunning has found a job next year as a special education teacher at another LCPS school, he said that he's still concerned as to how the program will change without the presence of ELL TAs.
“The information that's been conveyed is very thin and that's why we're worried,” Dunning said. “We really haven't received information specifically why or how it's going to be implemented.”
Flynn said that information about the changes has been relayed through both an online presentation and a meeting where all ELL teachers were invited to discuss the upcoming changes. ELL TAs were not invited to the meeting.
Dunning is concerned that ELL parents may not be aware of the changes to their children's education.
“The ELL population places a lot of faith in the school system,” said Dunning. “They often don't get involved. None of the parents really know this happened to their education system.”
Flynn said that due to the elimination of the TAs there may be an increased emphasis on team teaching, but that there is not a specific plan as to how that would be implemented.
Dunning said that increased team teaching could be difficult for both ELL and regular teachers alike, especially due to cuts to professional development programs for teachers.
“That would significantly reduce the number of self-sustained classes and it's going to affect schedules of non ELL teachers as well,” Dunning said.
Radhakrishnan said that the overall goal of her petition is to draw awareness to how the elimination of ELL TAs will affect students so that changes can be made.
“We end up kind of forgetting about them and the people that make them great, the TAs,” Radhakrishnan said.