School Talk

Providence Supe: These Kids Are Assets, Not Burdens

Providence Superintendent took time Tuesday evening to testify before the Rhode Island House Finance Committee to specifically address the issue of English Language Learners and the importance (and wisdom) in investing in them. Below is his full testimony.


The Providence Public School District serves approximately 24,000 students – more than 6,000 of whom qualify for English Language Learning services. That is a daunting number, and it represents nearly 1,500 more ELL students than we served just five years ago. And the trend continues to point up.

English language learners are a very diverse group. You might be surprised to learn that 44 percent of our ELL students were actually born in this country.
 Some of our new students may have never experienced learning in a formal classroom. Some have escaped persecution but are still managing the trauma that comes from living as refugees. Others come from fractured families, split by borders and politics. Some of these children arrived on American soil unaccompanied—alone.

I share this with you so that you understand that English Learners, even under the best-case scenarios, have unique needs that must be addressed if those children are to succeed. And, I share this with you because those children need to succeed. They don’t have an alternative available to them.

As superintendent of the state’s largest public school district, I am here to tell you that dedicated ELL funding has made a huge difference for our students this year. Some people mistakenly see the rise of ELL students as a problem to mitigate rather than an opportunity to celebrate. These students are not burdens. These students are assets to a 21st-century, global workforce. We should embrace them for their language skills and encourage more students to become bilingual and multilingual. It’s not only the ethical investment, but it’s an economic development strategy that will pay dividends in years to come.

This is a hugely important conversation for our state to have and Chris Maher is right to be drawing attention to it.

What do you think?

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