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EMBRACING LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY: New Alliance Report Demonstrates How Seattle Public Schools Prepares English Language Learners for Success in a Globalized World

Using Seattle Public Schools (SPS) as a model, a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education shows how high-quality curriculum and innovative school designs that support the use of students’ home languages, as well as English, produce better outcomes for English language learners (ELLs). The report, Embracing Linguistic Diversity: The Role of Teacher Leaders in Building Seattle’s Pipeline of International Schools, also shows how SPS develops educators who value diversity and emphasize language development to further a districtwide focus on international education and global competency.

“At Seattle Public Schools, students’ languages and diverse backgrounds are seen as assets, not liabilities,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Students develop an understanding of their own race and identity as well as the culture and identity of others, leading them to become lifelong learners. In this way, all students, including English language learners, receive a high-quality education that prepares them for a technologically advanced, global economy.”

The report, which was written with support from MetLife Foundation, focuses on two “international” schools in Seattle—Denny International Middle School (DIMS) and Chief Sealth International High School (CSIHS)—that require students to learn a second language, putting ELLs and native English speakers on equal footing and preparing them for an economy that increasingly demands foreign language skills. More than 60 percent of the students at both schools are low-income, and one-third come from homes where a language other than English is spoken.

At the core of the SPS program are teacher leaders. Developing and retaining talented, skilled leaders who can engage students is one of the district’s top priorities. To meet this goal, the district provides professional support and permits teacher leaders to exercise leadership and establish shared priorities and expectations for educating ELLs as part of a multicultural, global learning community. The SPS initiative encourages teachers to develop students’ twenty-first-century knowledge, skills, and dispositions by building on the assets that students bring to the learning process.

“Teacher leaders must develop and practice the same global competencies that we aim to teach our students,” said Noah Zeichner, a National Board–certified teacher at CSIHS. “Highly nuanced communication and collaboration skills are essential for teacher leaders as we provide constructive feedback to our colleagues while navigating challenging political climates and antiquated school leadership structures.”

Embracing Linguistic Diversity lays out a set of policy recommendations to aid school districts in creating effective school designs, including (1) establishing shared responsibility for educating ELLs; (2) cultivating a schoolwide focus on language development; and (3) developing educators who value diversity and incorporate tools for language development into rigorous course work.

“As states adopt new college- and career-ready standards, it is critical that schools develop and support all students, particularly the fast-growing ELL population,” Wise said. “Seattle Public Schools provides an excellent model for this.”

On November 7, Mariana Haynes, senior fellow at the Alliance and author of the report, will moderate a webinar on Embracing Linguistic Diversity that will examine what lessons can be learned about how Seattle’s international schools leverage students’ linguistic and cultural assets to prepare them for a rapidly changing, competitive global society.

The webinar will feature Zeichner and Karen Kodama, international education administrator for Seattle Public Schools, who will provide an overview of the design of Seattle Public Schools’s pipeline of international schools. Brandon Wiley, executive director of the International Studies Schools Network at the Asia Society, will discuss Asia Society’s national network of international studies schools and how international best practice can inform their design. Lisa Clarke, a teacher ambassador and 2013 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow from the U.S. Department of Education, will share the U.S. Department of Education’s international strategy to prepare today’s youth for a globalized world.

Additional information on the webinar, including instructions on how to RSVP, are available at

Embracing Linguistic Diversity: The Role of Teacher Leaders in Building Seattle’s Pipeline of International Schools is available at

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