March 2007 Archives

A couple of booths in the exhibitors' hall for the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages Inc. conference last week caught my fancy and displayed products that I think might interest teachers of English-language learners. At one booth, Shane Dixon, of Provo, Utah, was strumming a white guitar and singing songs with lyrics in the style of James Taylor (who was popular when Baby Boomers were in high school). Mr. Dixon is a teacher of English as a second language and was promoting his "ESL tunes," which he sells on a CD, called "Grammar Rocks." I tried out ...


I believe some people in this country might have more empathy for English-language learners if they had studied a second language. In my case, at least, while trying to get a handle on the subjunctive mode and other difficult aspects of Spanish, I may have gained some insight into some of the challenges that English-learners face. Even after many years of study, I shudder to think of all the mistakes I make when speaking Spanish. So I thought it was noteworthy when I learned this week that the U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings recently tried her hand at ...


I called Deb Sigman, the assessment director for the California Department of Education, recently to find out more about the Spanish-language test that the state is launching for some English-language learners. You can read more about that in this week's issue of Education Week. During the same conversation I thought to ask whether California ever developed a test in reading and writing for English-learners in kindergarten and 1st grade to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act. It turns out that California has not done so--and, as a result, is receiving federal funds for English-language learners under Title III ...


Those of us who weren't able to attend the March 23 U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee hearing on English-language learners and reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act can read testimonies and listen to the hearing by Webcast through the Web site of the House Committee on Education and Labor. I'm catching up this week on what happened, along with all of you--I didn't attend the hearing because I was covering the annual conference of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages Inc. in Seattle. While what goes on inside the policymaking rooms of Congress is important, ...


Virginia's U.S. senators, John Warner, a Republican, and Jim Webb, a Democrat, introduced a bill on March 21 that would apply to school districts that have run into problems with the U.S. Department of Education regarding how they test English-language learners. If enacted, the bill would permit the school districts to continue with the way they now test such students for the current school year. Sen. Warner testified that the "impasse" between the federal government and Virginia school districts over how to include English-language learners in testing under the No Child Left Behind Act "could result in a ...


Katherine Leal Unmuth, of the Dallas Morning News, tells how a school board member in the Irving Independent School District in Texas pitched the idea of starting classes in English immersion and was told by the district's superintendent that it's against the law. Texas requires bilingual education. (Click here to read Ms. Unmuth's article.) This isn't the first time that educators or education leaders in Texas have suggested that the state should offer school districts more flexibility in how they teach English-language learners. I wrote about discussions on this issue held by the Texas Board of Education last school year. ...


About one in three 1st- and 2nd-generation Latino students in Nebraska say they plan to work full time after they finish high school. And educators are concerned about the tendency of many Latinos in that Midwestern state to drop out of school even before graduating to take unskilled jobs. Those are some recent findings by researchers Lourdes Gouveia and Mary Ann Powell at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, who have studied the integration--and sometimes the lack of integration--of Latinos into various aspects of community life in Nebraska. To learn more about Nebraska Latino students and schools, read page 5 ...


Providing learning materials and making available assessments in students' native languages, and hiring teachers and staff who speak students' primary languages are some of the "obvious" ways that California schools could improve how they teach English-language learners, according to a couple of researchers in the state. I find it interesting that Patricia Gándara, a professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Russell W. Rumberger, a professor of education at the University of California, Santa Barbara, have chosen the word "obvious" in their recent recommendation for an increase in the use of students' native languages in a ...


Kathyrn M. Doherty, a special assistant to Deputy Secretary of Education Raymond J. Simon, has been launching some projects under the LEP Partnership to guide states in how to include English-language learners in testing. But those projects will not be ready to "inform spring tests," she told me in a phone interview for an update on the LEP Partnership that was published in Education Week this week. She said that the U.S. Department of Education has dispatched staff to help individual states with testing issues for the spring season upon request. Ms. Doherty has engaged some well-known researchers to ...


Virginia Senator Jim Webb's communications director Jessica Smith called me--and sent an e-mail--to say I was wrong to suggest in my post yesterday that Sen. Webb hasn't spent much time considering the request from the Virginia School Boards Association to introduce legislation that would affect how some U.S. school districts carry out the testing of English-language learners this school year. Here's an excerpt from her e-mail message providing additional information: "I told you we hadn’t seen the specific language of the legislation in question—so it’s hard for the Senator to take a firm stand at this ...


It may turn out to be merely a symbolic move, but on behalf of several Virginia school districts resisting a federal mandate to change how they test English-language learners, the Virginia School Boards Association has asked Virginia's senators to introduce legislation in the U.S. Congress that would ensure they would not have to carry out the mandate this school year. Frank E. Barham, the executive director of the Virginia School Boards Association said in a phone interview that earlier this month, his organization sent a letter asking Sen. John Warner, a Republican, and Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat, to ...


A few years ago I read the book The Middle of Everywhere: The World's Refugees Come to Our Town, which described some of the trauma that refugees experience. I was moved by stories from the author, Mary Pipher, who is a therapist, about how she helped refugees to better understand their feelings about past hardships and their new life in Omaha, Neb. She carried out some of this work through informal social interactions because the idea of talk therapy was intimidating or foreign to refugees from some cultures. Once I tutored in English a woman from Afghanistan who had fled ...


Washington Post writer and syndicated columnist Marcela Sanchez's March 2 column about the high number of English-language learners who are U.S.-born is a sign to me that some journalists at mainstream newspapers are taking a closer look at the nuances of issues concerning this population. I still don't see a lot of articles on how to meet the needs of long-term English-language learners, but those such as the one by Ms. Sanchez are steps toward letting the public know more about this group of students. One blog reader pointed out to me that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer also published ...


Once again, there's a bill before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that would enable graduates of U.S. schools who are undocumented immigrants--and who meet certain criteria--to get in-state tuition rates at colleges and universities in their states. Organizations that are advocating for passage of the bill, such as the National Council of La Raza, say that about 65,000 youths who are undocumented are granted high school diplomas in this country each year. The bill also would give undocumented youths who meet certain criteria a path to legalization, so that if they earn a college education, they have ...


The Ogden City School District in Ogden, Utah, has put in place a policy that I've found to be rare in school districts. For at least six years, the school district has been requiring all of its new teachers to get an endorsement to teach English as a second language within the first three years of employment. I learned about this policy from my colleague Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, who just visited the Ogden City district to write about how it implements its federal Reading First grant. Rich Moore, the executive director of curriculum and instruction for the district, told me ...


Soon, some educators and members of advocacy groups may get a chance to tell members of the U.S. Congress how they think requirements for English-language learners in the No Child Left Behind Act should--or should not--be changed in the law, which is up for reauthorization this year. Badar Tareen, the press secretary for U.S. Rep. Dale E. Kildee, a Democrat from Michigan, told me in a phone interview this morning that the House subcommittee on early childhood elementary and secondary education plans to hold a hearing on English-language learners and NCLB this month. The hearing is tentatively set ...


Kathleen Leos, the director of the U.S. Department of Education's office of English-language acquisition, hasn't shied away from talking in public forums about English-language learners and the No Child Left Behind Act. I heard her speak here in Washington this week on a panel about the education of Latinos sponsored by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the League of United Latin American Citizens. She said that because of the requirements in NCLB, "every single state has language standards for the first time" for English-language learners, and those English-language-development standards also have to align with states' ...


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