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Plenty of "Edspeak" to Go Around

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In her book about educational jargon published in July, education historian Diane Ravitch includes a number of terms I hear tossed around in the field of educating English-language learners. I confess that I toss some of those terms around myself.

In the preface of EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon, Ms. Ravitch writes that while a specialized vocabulary may help people working in a particular field to discuss "sophisticated ideas that are beyond the understanding of the average citizen," the result, "is to mystify the public."

I applaud Ms. Ravitch for trying to translate educational terms into plain English.

Here's her definition of bilingual education, for example: "School program that teaches English-language learners all subjects in their native language while they are learning English. Advocates see bilingual education as a way to help students gain knowledge while becoming literate in two languages. Critics question such programs' value and effectiveness, contending that limited-English-proficient students' main priority should be to learn English—and learn in English."

Her definition is confusing, though, in that she says that all subjects are taught in students' native tongue while students are learning English. In fact, bilingual education programs that I've observed include at least some English lessons—even if it's only oral English—from the start. The definition would be better if she deleted the word "all."

It just goes to show that demystifying is not an easy task.

EdSpeak is published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development in Alexandria, Va. By the way, that same organization has its own online lexicon for educational vocabulary, which also includes a fair number of definitions for terms related to educating English-language learners.

Ms. Ravitch is a co-writer with education scholar Deborah Meier of a blog, Bridging Differences, hosted at www.edweek.org.

8 Comments

I think it is clear that Ravithc means that all CORE SUBJECTS -according to orthodox bilingual ed theory- were to be taught in the Native Language (never English even if English is known to the student). I have been involved with Bilingual Education reform for many years and the truth of the matter is that NENLI (non-English Native language instruction) was a goal and was very common in many schools.

I think Ravitch herself would agree that the definition would perhaps be slighly clearer if she had defined bilingual education like this.

School program that teaches English-language learners all {CORE} subjects in their native language while they are learning English. Advocates see bilingual education as a way to help students gain knowledge while becoming literate in two languages. Critics question such programs' value and effectiveness, contending that limited-English-proficient students' main priority should be to learn English—and learn in English."

But I think Ms. Ravitch was trying to avoid more Edspeak. Most people (outside of Education) would not undersand 'core subjects). How about some ESLRS? (Expected Student Learning Results....) How about "Standaristos". I am not making any of this up this is all Edspeak jargon. Edspeak is not thought. It is form of mind control and propaganda just like New Speak. Educators should be required to 'translate' all their systems to the tax-paying public.

Seems like a good effort particularly when jargon is so confusing.

Just to add for clarification on bilingual education. There is a difference between English used in everyday life and English required to be successful in school. Research data indicates it takes years for ELLs to learn and acquire sufficient English for academic learning. Students must learn science, math, and social studies while their language level improves. This is the benefit of bilingual education. When the student achieves English language skills to mainstream into English Only classes, they will NOT be behind in content area knowledge.
The knowledge is critical to academic success. Both must happpen, academic development and language development.

Thank you Mary Ann for pointing out this problem in Ravitch's new book.

Yes, Ravitch's definition of bilingual education is not only dead wrong, its also very harmful and feeds the public stereotype of bilingual education as "monolingual" native language education. This makes this quality program politically difficult to offer the students who need it the most.

Bilingual -- "bi" means "two," thus "two languages." As a former bilingual teacher, and as one who has worked in the field for many years, I can add to MaryAnn's observations that bilingual programs do indeed teach academic subjects in both English and the native language. In many programs, the amount of core subjects taught in the native language is actually less than those taught in English, particularly in transitional models (the most common model), where more subjects are taught in English as students move up in grade level. Even in "dual language" classrooms where equal time is supposed to dedicated to instruction in both languages, researchers are starting to notice there's really more English, particulary when state tests are English only.

Like much of Ravitch's work, this definition is tendentious, designed to apply her own political spin to the issue. Opponents have long sought to discredit bilingual education by claiming that it provides instruction almost entirely in Spanish (or some other non-English language). But unbiased research shows that's not the case.

Perhaps the most comprehensive data in this area come from the Descriptive Study of Services to LEP Students and LEP Students with Disabilities (Zehler et al., 2003): http://www.devassoc.com/pdfs/lep_policy_report.pdf. Surveying a national sample of school districts, it found that about 40 percent of English learners received some form of bilingual instruction. Of these students, about half were taught at least 75% of the time in English (Table 2.1).

No one knows better than Diane Ravitch that all bilingual programs in the United States do not teach all subject matter in the native language as her definition suggests. Throughout her professional career, beginning with the "Great School Wars" and including edited texts about NYC schools that followed, she has chosen to virtually ignore large bodies of information and data about Hispanics in New York City and the historic failure of the public schools to ensure that they had opportunities to learn English ( even English as a Second Language classes)prior to the establishment of bilingual programs---much less learn subject matter in a language they could understand. In her first major study of High Schools with C Finn, she chose not to include a sufficient sample of Hispanics (the largest group of English Language Learners in the city and country).... Nonetheless, she and her colleagues purport to generalize their findings to Hispanics and to make policy recommendations regarding English language learners based on their "expertise". In addition, as a federal policy maker and "expert" on NYC schools she has had access to numerous reports that defy her definition.

Ravitch has long been a "critic" of bilingual education and presumably amongst those she refers to. Her own writings suggest that she is fully aware of the various models of implementation of bilingual programs ---more than sufficient to raise professional as well as ethical questions about the publication of this patently incorrect definition.

Furthermore, when raising concerns about the failure of our public schools to achieve literacy skills for large segments of students she has not proposed that the "primary/sole" focus of schools for these students should be learning English--to the exclusion of subject matter---Quite the contrary!

Interestingly, I heard her boast some year's ago about her son learning another language (Russian, as I remember). It would seem that the opportunity to learn two languages is good for some children-- but not others...And the opportunity to learn subject matter through comprehensible instruction is also necessary for some--but not others.

James Crawford is being disengenuous again. It is not suprising that the percertage of students being taught in bilingual classes is dropping as is the number of students in Spanish-only classes. This is the direct result of the English for the Children Movement reforms (from 1997 on) in California, Arizona and Massachusetts. The emphasis today in California and other states is in testing in English and meeting graduation requirements such as the CAHSEE in English. Crawford ignores the fact that only ten years ago California was using MILLIONS of Spanisn only core langauge text books k-12. Not thousands. MILLIONS. No one can tell me this didn't happen. My school distrct had THOUSANDS of Spanish only texts in all the subject areas. My bilingual coordinator EXCLUSIVELY ordered Spanish language books destined for ues in World History and US history classes and REFUSED to allow English medium books to be ordered even if they were specially designed for Englsih learners (bilingual glossaries and numbered paragraphs).

This is not myth it is fact.

The revolt of Hispanic and immigrant parents of the 9th street was not myth but fact.

I personally met Lenin Lopez one of the parents of the 9th street school in the LAUSD. He was ashamed of the illteracy of his children in Spanish not to mention their poor English. He personally told me -holding back the tears- that children in rural schools in Mexico taught by 15 year old cadet teachers could read and write Spanish better than his chlidren and their classmates WHO USED INVENTIVE SPELLING IN SPANISH!!! Of course, Lenin Lopez was horrified to know his children were being taught almost exclusively in Spanish and knew very little English even after several years of enrollement in the LAUSD. He was distressed how few days his students were enrolled and he was unable to get his children transferred out. He also witnessed teachers who agreed with him be disciplined or become discourged and leave the school. No one had to convince Lenin Lopez to support 227 and to oppose bilingual education as practiced in the school He said to me, "English should be taught from day one." He laughed bitterly when people told him Crawford, Cummin and Krashen DID WANT ENGLISH. "So Where is it? When I am I going to hear it? I have been waiting for YEARS. I have sat in classes for days on end and HARDLY EVEN HEARD ENGLISH And worst of all the Spanish I heard was mediocre. I don't think I ever met a single bilingual educator who would be qualfied to teach in Mexico and Spain. They just didn't have the education or training in Spanish."

Few bilingual adocates have ever heard of Lenin Lopez or the children of the 9th street school but they should.

This was the fruit of the mandates of bilingual ed satraps. In many classes and many schools time and again English immersion as an workable alternative was fought tooth and nail. James Crawford was the ally of the Bilingual Ed Establishement.

Bilingual advocates usually ignore the fact that the English for the Children movement always garnered strong support in immigrant communities. In many areas Hispanic parents supported Prop 227 60-40 despite and huge and expensive disinformation campaign against this reform. Statewide the support of Hispanics was about 50%; among other immigrant groups it approached 90%. 227 won in a landslide despite being outspent 100 to 1. It was truly democracy in action and a triumph of the little people over the special intersts such as the dealers in Spanish language text books.

One of the reasons the courts upheld 227 as constitutional was precisely becuase of the strong support of immigrant and Hispanic communities for English immersion and for bilingual education reform.

There is no consitutional right to NENLI (Non English Native Language Instructioon) or orthodox bilingual education.

What students have a right to access to school and special help and tutoring if needed. If schools are better able to provide English immersion and ELD classed with an English focus over Bilingual Education or Dual Immersion they are constitutionally and legally entitled to do so.


That is the truth of how critical the situation was becoming and yes I blame Crawford, Krashen, Cummin and every bilingual expert who pushed the state, fedral and loccal governement to believe in such nonsense. They meant well perhaps but they did irrevocalbe harm to tens of thousands of students whose educations were stunted. I personally have seen doxens of talented bilingual ed graduates drop out of college because they were not prepared by their high schools. On the other hand, successful students who graduated from English medium classes are legion. There are many roads; dual immersion is one of them and can work in certain elite situaitons. But for most schools, unable to maintain faculty for even small AP foreign language programs, English Immersion and Sheltered (SDAEI) subject area classes are the logical alternative.

Today most bilingual coordinaors emphasize English language training and mainstreaming into English medium classes. The high water mark of NENLI bilingual educaiton is clearly over.
We hope the people will continue to see the vital importance of providing an English medium education for all American students and that they will idenfity people like James Crawford as as a long term apologist and radical advocate of multiculuralism and failed systems of phoney bilingual education (NENLI -non English native langauge instruciton).

Mr. Munro seems intent on refighting the battle over Prop. 227, the English-only mandate that passed in California nearly 10 years ago. I won't oblige. But I will respond to the one germane point he made.

He asserts that the recent research I cited, showing that bilingual programs in the United States are indeed bilingual, is misleading because Prop. 227 eliminated so many programs of "non-English native language instruction."

In fact, a survey that predates the California initiative (conducted by the same research firm) reached a very similar conclusion. It found that in a large nationwide sample, about two-thirds of bilingual programs were taught in English between 40% and 75% of the time (Hopstock et al. 1993. Descriptive study of services to limited English proficient students. Arlington, VA: Development Associates.)

It's easy to make wild charges without supporting data, as opponents of bilingual education are prone to do. If Munro has evidence that casts doubt on the Development Associates study, I challenge him provide it. But I won't be holding my breath.

One more thing ...

I can't let Munro's casual slander of Stephen Krashen pass without correction. Erroneous claims on the Internet tend to take on a poisonous life of their own.

Krashen is far from monolingual. He is fluent in German, Yiddish, and French. He speaks basic Spanish and is currently studying Mandarin. (I hope I haven't left out any of his languages.) What's more, I've witnessed him crack up Ethiopian hotel workers by telling jokes in Amharic, a feat that requires a rather sophisticated command of the language.

Mr. Munro's claims about Krashen are just like his claims about bilingual education: uninformed.

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