Morgan Craven and Lizdelia Piñón• By Morgan Craven, J.D., & Lizdelia Piñón, Ed.D. • IDRA Newsletter • April 2024 •

There are more than 5 million emergent bilingual students (English learners) in U.S. public schools, constituting 10% of the student population (NCES, 2023). These students bring the invaluable assets of multilingualism and multiculturalism to their school communities. With the proper educational support, they can excel academically, contribute diverse perspectives, and live whole, joyful lives that enrich our communities and society.

Despite this large and expanding student population, policymakers at every level have struggled to (and, in some cases, been unwilling to) address the long-standing, systemic failures that have contributed to the gaps in educational achievement between emergent bilingual students and their peers.

To help address these deficiencies, IDRA develops and promotes research-based policies; supports authentic family leadership and student support programs; leads and serves in national, state and local policy coalitions; and continues its critical work in educator development with a specific focus on emergent bilingual students.

Below are some of the pressing issues that impact these students and strategies IDRA is working on to address them.

Certify Educators in Bilingual Special Education

Emergent bilingual students are overrepresented in some special education programs and underrepresented in others (Ortiz, et al., 2020; Artiles, et al., 2010). This is partly due to some educators’ lack of knowledge of second language acquisition (Klingner et al., 2006). Other factors include identification processes, educational policies and system inequities (Schonfeld, et al., 2015).

We must have well-trained educators and robust programming and services for emergent bilingual students with special educational needs. A recent study of national trends showed lower rates of general education inclusion and high school graduation for emergent bilingual students with disabilities relative to non-emergent bilingual students with disabilities (Cooc, 2023).

Educators must possess the necessary skills, knowledge and cultural sensitivity to support the intersection of students with disabilities who come from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds. Recognizing this need, there is a demand for more educators certified in bilingual special education.

In 2021, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 2256 to establish a new certification in bilingual special education, stemming from the year-long Texas Early Childhood English Learner Initiative (TECELI, 2021). As a steering committee member, IDRA helped develop the initiative’s policy roadmap, including the bilingual special education certificate (Piñon, 2022).

Unfortunately, the certificate has been awaiting Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) approval for the past year. IDRA is currently organizing focus groups of educators and scholars to continue to give the SBOE feedback on the latest draft of the certificate and to urge its swift approval and implementation.

Support Emergent Bilingual Family Leadership in Schools and Policy Spaces

Robust systems of family leadership and engagement can transform schools and improve student outcomes. However, some families face their schools’ language barriers in accessing information about their children’s education and participating in their school communities.

Schools must operate programs and practices that foster authentic family engagement, with specialized support for the families of emergent bilingual students who may not speak English. This involves prioritizing meaningful communications with parents, ensuring school leaders maintain consistent contact with parents and caregivers and actively engaging parents in decision-making at school and district levels (Montemayor, 2022). For example, school boards can set policies that mandate translating all communications to students’ families who speak languages other than English.

All stakeholders, including policymakers, school district leaders, administrators and educators, must engage in ongoing community needs assessments that are culturally and linguistically appropriate.

Supporting families entails amplifying their voices, establishing a network of family advocates, recognizing their strengths, and providing access to resources and information. Additionally, it is crucial to ensure that parents of emergent bilingual students know and understand their rights within the education system.

IDRA continues to center family and student engagement and leadership through programs, for example, in El Paso, Houston, San Antonio and South Texas with student advocates and family leadership programs like our Education CAFEs (Montemayor, 2023; IDRA, 2021).

Protect Student Rights to Educational Opportunities

This year, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Lau v. Nichols, the unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision that protected the rights of emergent bilingual students to equal access to a meaningful education (IDRA, 2024). IDRA founder Dr. José A. Cárdenas testified in the case and then assisted the Office for Civil Rights in developing the “Lau Remedies,” the landmark guide for schools on serving emergent bilingual students (IDRA, 2024).

Lau, and subsequent federal and state guidance and protections, led to significant improvements, but emergent bilingual students and their families continue to face barriers to excellent and equitable educational programs, including sub-par and underfunded academic programs, ineffective assessment systems, and limited essential information about their student’s academic well-being delivered in families’ home languages.

IDRA conducts research and develops resources to help families and other advocates identify and report violations of emergent bilingual students’ rights to education. We are in state, regional and national coalitions that work directly with policymakers to recommend how federal guidance and technical support can help districts and states better serve emergent bilingual students and their families. We are also developing model policies and policy recommendations that address persistent barriers and ensure access to quality education for all.

In addition to addressing the issues described above, IDRA works to increase targeted federal and state funding to support research-based language programs that serve emergent bilingual students; encourage policymakers and schools to adopt meaningful, culturally relevant methods of assessing emergent bilingual academic development and achievement; and expanding access to translanguaging supports that enable emergent bilingual students to use their home languages to as they grow their skills in English (Piñon, 2022).

For more information on IDRA’s work to ensure excellent educational opportunities for emergent bilingual students, see our policy resource webpage and our Serving Emergent Bilingual Students Equity Assistance – Online Toolkit.


Artiles, A.J., Kozleski, E.B., Trent, S.C., Osher, D., & Ortiz, A. (2010). Justifying and Explaining Disproportionality, 1968-2008: A Critique of Underlying Views of Culture. Exceptional Children, 76(3), 279-299.

Cooc, N. (2023). National Trends in Special Education and Academic Outcomes for English Learners with Disabilities. Journal of Special Education, 57(2), 106-117.

IDRA. (2021). Education CAFE™ – Community Action Forums for Excellence, webpage.

IDRA. (2024). Lau v. Nichols – The Law in Education, webpage.

Klingner, J.K., Artiles, A.J., & Méndez Barletta, L. (2006). English Language Learners, Who Struggle with Reading: Language Acquisition or LD? Journal of Learning Disabilities, 39(2), 108-128.

Montemayor, A. (September 2023). Students Advocate and Influence Culturally-rich Education in their Schools. IDRA Newsletter.

Montemayor, A. (August 2023). Parents Already Have Rights to Expect an Equitable and Just Education – Four Ways Schools Can Constructively Engage with Families. IDRA Newsletter.

NCES. (2023). English Learners in Public Schools. Condition of Education 2023. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

Ortiz, A.A., Fránquiz, M.E., & Lara, G.P. (2020). The Education of Emergent Bilinguals with Disabilities: State of Practice. Bilingual Research Journal, 43:3, 245-252.

Piñon, L. (February 2023). Bilingual Special Education Certification Is One Step Closer in Texas. IDRA Newsletter.

Piñon, L. (March 2022). The Innovation of Translanguaging Pedagogy Enables Students to Use All of Their Tools. IDRA Newsletter.

Schonfeld, D.J., Adams, R.E., Fredstrom, B.K., Weissberg, R.P., Gilman, R., Voyce, C., Tomlin, R., & Speese-Linehan, D. (2015). Cluster-randomized Trial Demonstrating Impact on Academic Achievement of Elementary Social-Emotional Learning. School Psychology Quarterly, 30(3), 406-420.

TECELI. (January 2021). Texas Early Childhood English Learner Initiative Policy Roadmap. Texas Early Childhood English Learner Initiative.

Morgan Craven, J.D., is the IDRA national director of policy, advocacy and community engagement. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at Lizdelia Piñón, Ed.D., is an IDRA education associate. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at

[© 2024, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the April edition of the IDRA Newsletter. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]