Justice For English Language Learners

This week I was asked to be a Guest Blogger for Education Week. Rick Hess's Straight Up blog examines policy and practice related to current issues in education. I decided to focus my posts on issues related to English Language learners. Although education has made progress in terms of providing services for English learners, I argue that many of these practices and policies may serve to marginalize this group of students.


What are some ways that schools, districts and teachers can provide Justice For English Language Learners and address the diverse needs of English learners?

8 comments:

  1. At first I was amazed by the bleak picture that was painted about ELL students and their success or failure rate. Yet when I stopped to think about ELL programs and the fact that " a recent National Assessment of Educational Progress report shows the achievement gap between Hispanic and white students has not changed in the past twenty years." I began to be less surprised. Thinking back over what I glimpsed of ELL programs as I was growing up, it seemed to be multiple grades of students all grouped together in one class and the only thing they had in common was that they were ELL. It did not seem to matter if they were new to our community and the ELL program or if they were students that I'd been playing with on the playground since grade school. From your blog it does not appear that there has been much progress made since what I observed 15 years ago. It stands to reason that if ELL students are only continually exposed to an ELL classroom during their first years in the program that their unconditioned response to being placed in a regular English speaking classroom where they are the only ELL would be anxiety, fear and a strong desire to return to what they deem as "comfortable". The question then becomes as ELL students progress in their learning of the English language how do you start to move them out of the ELL tract without creating a generalized response of fear and anxiety about non ELL classes that will paralyze the student and not allow them to achieve the results that we know they can achieve. I think you make a very strong point about introducing them to non ELL classes in areas where students show a strong passion for that subject. Obviously there will need to be some considerations taken into account, the ELL student must be paired with the "right" non ELL teacher for their first non ELL class, the ELL student will need to have access to an ELL aide during the class if they require it. etc... As long as these requirements are met the ELL student should be able to adjust to their non ELL class with the addition of primary reinforces (during the initial transition) and secondary reinforces as the ELL student begins to feel more comfortable in the class. This would provide the ELL student positive reinforcement that their mastery of the English language is indeed a good thing and something that should continue. Once the ELL student has had a positive experience in one non ELL class, another class in that same subject area (or a closely related area) can be added hopefully allowing the ELL students feelings of anxiety and fear to subside and eventually become extinct as they are exposed to more positive experiences outside the ELL classroom.

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    1. Lisbeth, thank you for responding to this week's post! You made a great connection to behavioral theory and how students who are placed in this track may experience anxiety as a conditioned response. I think your plan would be a great thesis paper in terms of ways that ELL students who are tracked in ELL programs can be assimilated back to the mainstream classroom. In my experience with middle school ELL students who are tracked they want to be in mainstream classrooms with their peers but they do not have the skill set to be successful on their own. What can the mainstream teacher do to accomodate students who want to be challenged but still need assistance?

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  2. There is one post of this blog that stood out for me and remained at the forefront of my mind. "New ELL students need support acquiring basic interpersonal communication skills. Long-term ELL students need support acquiring academic literacy skills." I personally did not have much experience dealing with ELL growing up and therefore I had the stereotypical view that ELL students were placed in the ELL programs for the sole purpose of learning the English language. I compared it to myself enrolling in a Spanish class for the sole purpose of learning to "speak" Spanish. My mind set was similar to the first part of the quote I referred to. Upon reading this blog though, I feel as if I have been educated to the realities and the seriousness of the ELL programs and how their students are only going to increase in enrollment in the upcoming years. The task at hand is to provide support to teachers, schools and students. I feel that the schools are not fully comprehending the severity that their treatment of ELL students and their programs will have for the future of our country on a socio-economic level. Based upon my own experiences working with children, I like to focus on the basics and strip away the top layers and all the "fuss" and focus on the core of thins which is the students. Maybe if students are specifically told what each class they enter will expect of them at specific intervals throughout the school year, then this will hold not only the students responsible for their education but the teachers as well. Education is a two-way street and we can only think of ways to implement strategies that both ends of the spectrum can implement and succeed at.

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  3. The first thought that came to mind when reading this was, "Separate but equal." I've never thought to think how ELL programs, though seeming geared towards helping these students, may in fact be "oppressive" as you say. When we think back at the Jim Crow laws and its attempt to recognize African American rights, equality was being compromised. Though these have long been overturned, I can't help but think that government funding for ELL programs are cousins to the Jim Crow Laws. It's subtly disguised by the fact that its intent is to provide an equal opportunity to ELL students but the result, as you argue, is a "system that is preventing this group of students from moving forward."

    I was once told that "racism comes in many different faces." And from this article, I see an "institutionalized racism." The government has imposed such things as you say, "No Child Left Behind" but yet we haven't seen any significant change for the "past twenty years." There is something truly inequitable in this. If ELL students are not showing results, what's happening is that they are being pulled out, separated from native learners, and hence allowing others to succeed while they don't.

    I agree with your "call to action" in that if we don't take substantial steps towards the equal education that ELL students deserve. If we turn our eyes to this institutionalized racism it will only be self inflicting to the educational system itself.

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    1. this is Marlo Bagsik btw. I don't know why my name wasn't published.

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  4. The problem of schools receiving "extra funding" for ELL students but schools do not properly use that money to develop the curricula that is tailored for ELL students. In other words the money is being misappropriated. This comes from a combination of lazy policy makers as well as unequipped administrators, that prefer to maintain the status quo rather than diversifying with the times. If the amount of ELL students is increasing and the efforts to deliver a quality and equal education is marginalized, than the need for teachers to understand this dilemma is more important than ever. The problem that one standardized test, holding two different types of learners accountable under one curriculum, that is tailored to only ELD students, needs to be tackled; and it is the responsibility of new and modern teachers to understand the diversities as well as how to manage them. The challenge of ELL students and providing equal education is extremely prevalent in California.

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  5. You have touched on the core issue when you say and I quote, " the need for teachers to understand this dilemma is more important than ever". Teachers have some indications to what exactly creates the lingering setbacks many ELL students face and why no perceived efforts have been deployed to remedy such issues. Considering all the facts, I think it is safe and just to say that administrative protocols and guidelines make it hard for teachers to be innovative when dealing with such issues. I don't want to think for a minute that many or every teacher believes that when an ELL student can not speak English eloquently, he must also be deficient in every other subject. No teachers can clearly and intuitively see students potentials. They do have the constraints of the out-of-touch rules and regulations set in place by schools and districts administrators. And teachers are only following these rules to stay in compliance. Let's hope that what we are engage in here, this small debate that is, would someday help policy makers think through and forces them to adapt an adequate resolution.

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