Language To Thrive, Not Just Survive: An Analysis Of English As A Second Language Education For Refugee Students In The U.S.
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The U.S. has long been an international leader in refugee resettlement, admitting as many as 85,000 refugees annually. Refugees face many social and financial challenges as they begin their new life in the U.S., but evidence shows that –with support – refugee resettlement is revitalizing to the economy, and refugees are able to make unique and important contributions to U.S. society. About 35-40% of the refugees resettled in the U.S. every year are school-aged children. Refugee children are two to three times more likely to drop out of high school than their American-born peers. While there are many factors that influence this high drop out rate, underfunded, insufficient and non-strategic English as a Second Language education can be identified as a key challenge that is often not met well. Research shows that it takes 4-7 years for the many refugee students who are classified as Limited English Proficiency (LEP) to achieve the same average academic achievement rates as their English-speaking peers. In short, in order for refugee students to succeed, they must be meaningfully supported to learn English well. This is an educational right that has been protected under federal law since 1974, yet in practice many schools fail their students – including refugees – who are English language learners (ELLs). Why does this high drop out rate for refugee students exist? What does a meaningful education and proper support to develop English proficiency look like for refugee students? Are there existing, proven methods that could be applied to make a different on this issue? What are the challenges for implementation and reform? These are the questions that drove my research and writing on this topic. Throughout this work, I hoped to underscore the idea that this issue – education for refugee students in the U.S. – is multifaceted, complex, and in many ways requires more in-depth and long term research and evaluation. However, there do exist some viable, proven solutions that could be implemented: it is not an insurmountable, nor an inevitable, challenge. There is no silver bullet solution, but progress is possible. If the U.S. education system strives to take the plight and potential of refugee students very seriously, we stand to gain an incredible amount.