There is no doubt that Nevada schools are struggling to handle an ever-increasing number of students who don’t speak English. Despite the innovative efforts of teachers and schools to cope, the numbers are simply growing too fast. Nevada has seen a 700 percent increase in the number of non-English-speaking students in the past 10 years. There were 5,175 ESL students in 1989 – by 1999, there were 34,470.

School superintendents say that teachers need more training in English as a Second Language instruction. They’d like to see more tutoring opportunities for ESL students and expanded preschool and kindergarten programs so they don’t fall behind their English-speaking peers. Nevada educators and business leaders – particularly Latino business leaders – recognize the need for a greater push in schools to make sure that all non-English speakers become fluent in the language. It is that recognition that has sprouted the new Nevada Education Council, a statewide group whose efforts will focus on building a system that turns non-English speakers into students who are not only up to speed in English fluency, but in the core academic content areas as well.

That has been a difficult goal for other states to achieve, and those efforts have not been without controversy – California’s Proposition 227 essentially banned the practice of teaching students in their native language at the same time they’re learning to speak English. There are some who feel that students will never learn English if they aren’t required to speak, write and understand it as part of their daily classroom experience. Others take the view that students should not fall behind their peers in their academic studies as they struggle to become comfortable with a new language.

The question of how to provide a quality education to an increasingly diverse group of students is a new one for Nevada, and it won’t be answered overnight. However, that does not diminish the importance of the new Nevada Education Council, which brings together educators (who run schools), business people (who employ graduates) and politicians (who fund schools) to talk about the problem.

Rather than the educators or the politicians rushing forward with a plan that everyone will fight over, the council brings the various stakeholders – including parents and the community – together to talk about solutions. Only if we build consensus about how to deal with this issue can we begin to make real progress.

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