Why the ELL Gap?

by Michael Regnier

Why the ELL Gap? New Research Points to a Cause

Why the Gap? English Language Learners and New York City Charter Schools
, a new report from the
Manhattan Institute
, Dr. Marcus Winters uses NYC DOE data from school years 2008-09 to 2011-12 to follow charter and district school ELLs over time. (Winters
previously studied special education
in NYC charter schools.)

Confirming that charter schools, on average, enroll lower percentages of English Language Learners (ELLs) than district schools, Winters investigates possible causes for this gap, with three key findings:

  • Contrary to thinly sourced allegations about “counseling out,” charter schools’ lower ELL enrollment is not due to ELLs leaving the charter sector over time. In fact, charter ELL students are actually retained at similar if not higher rates than ELL students in district schools. (Other research has also found no statistical evidence of counseling out; see

  • The gap is also not accounted for by charter schools’ declassification rates, however. While charter schools ELLs are more likely to attain proficiency in English and become “former ELLs,” this explains little of the difference in enrollment rates.
  • Instead, the single, overwhelming reason for the ELL gap is that fewer ELLs enroll in charter schools in the intake grades. With wide discrepancies in starting ELL enrollments, the gap changes only marginally over time.

On October 6, 2014, Winters presented his findings to over 100 charter school educators, leaders, and supporters. Charter Center CEO James Merriman called the study an opportunity— for charter schools and their critics alike—to focus their efforts and attention on the challenge of ELL recruitment.

The Charter Center’s newly hired ELL Specialist, Melissa Katz, then led a discussion of the practical obstacles to ELL recruitment and the steps charter schools can take to overcome those obstacles and reach, enroll, and retain ELLs at higher rates.

The discussion concluded with a closed-door preview of new steps the Charter Center will be taking to address the ELL enrollment challenge, the details of which will be made public later this week.

Read the Study