$7 million grant clears way for creation of national center for English language learners

June 6, 2005

AUSTIN, Texas—The University of Texas at Austin’s Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts, along with five other institutions, is a sub-awardee for a $7 million grant to research the unique challenges faced by young English language learners. The Vaughn Gross Center, which is in the College of Education, will receive $1.9 million of the grant total.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences has awarded the five-year grant to establish the National Research and Development Center on English Language Learners. The center’s purpose will be to discover effective, science-based techniques for dealing with a skyrocketing population of students who enter school speaking a language other than English and who are not proficient in English.

“There is a desperate need for scientific research in this area,” says Dr. Sylvia Linan-Thompson, associate director of the project, assistant professor of special education and associate director of the Vaughn Gross Center. “According to federal statistics, around 4.5 million English language learners are enrolled in U.S. public schools right now. Even though these students are a significant part of the student population, study after study has shown that, as a group, they do not excel academically.

“For the 2001-02 school year, only 18.7 percent of English language learners met state reading comprehension norms in the 41 states that report these statistics. The need for investigation into this problem is clear, and I think we have put together a stellar team to do the research.”

In addition to Linan-Thompson, the research team includes Dr. Sharon Vaughn, director of the reading center, as well as representatives from University of Houston, Harvard University, the University of California-Berkeley, the Center for Applied Linguistics and California State University at Long Beach.

To find effective ways of closing the gap between English language learners and their peers, the research team will focus on vocabulary and comprehension strategy instruction using science and social studies texts. Beginning this fall, the team will develop and test various interventions in Texas and Maryland schools, disseminating the research findings and providing professional development opportunities for teachers in the methods that are proven effective.

“The reality is that in most states the instruction for older English language learners is delivered completely in English,” says Linan-Thompson. “Many teachers are not equipped with appropriate instructional techniques or don’t have alternate language proficiency, so English language learners may have to struggle through advanced texts in a language they do not know and can quickly fall far behind.”

The University of Texas at Austin’s Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts, which was created in 1996, provides leadership to state and national educators in effective reading instructional practices through research and professional development. Directed by Vaughn, the center has steadily diversified its resources to include state, national and private funding for projects, including the development of internationally recognized professional development products and resources. This diversity has allowed the center to extend its focus beyond Texas and contribute to the efforts of national researchers and educators who are working to fulfill the goal of the No Child Left Behind Act.

For more information contact: Kay Randall, Public Affairs/College of Education, 512-232-3910.