World and Nation

Report: Students Struggle Under English-Only Rule

Students not fluent in English have floundered in Boston schools since voters approved a law change six years ago requiring school districts to teach them all subjects in English rather than their native tongue, according to a report being released Wednesday.

In one of the most striking findings, the study found that the high school dropout rate nearly doubled for students still learning to speak and write in English, according to the report by the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and the Center for Collaborative Education.

The report — considered the most comprehensive look at the law’s impact on any school district in the state - paints a picture of a system ill-prepared to serve nonnative English speakers, who make up about 38 percent of the district’s 56,000students.

In many cases, the district is failing to evaluate properly and subsequently identify hundreds of students for special language instruction, while also failing to provide parents with enough information to make sound decisions about program choices, according to the report, which analyzed data between 2003 and 2006. Overall, the statistics show that the law — hailed as a quicker way to teach students English - has not helped them gain ground on their English-speaking peers, and in many cases may have left them even further behind.

In an interview Monday, Carol R. Johnson, superintendent of Boston schools, acknowledged shortcomings in the district’s programs but emphasized that she is committed to improving the performance of English language learners. She said the district intends to revamp the way it tests students for those services, provide more comprehensive information to parents about services, and is expanding programs for those students. “I think everybody recognizes we need to move with a sense of urgency,” said Johnson, who received a briefing from the report’s authors Monday afternoon and was reviewing the findings. “Children need help and we need to help them now.”