March 2008 Archives

Read "Struggling Asians go unnoticed," published today in the Chicago Tribune, to learn more about how and why educators may not give as much attention to Asian students who struggle with English or other subjects than students from other regions of the world. For more on this topic, see "The 'Other' Gap," which my colleague Lesli Maxwell wrote for Education Week in February 2007....


Immigration is changing urban libraries in this country as well as public schools. "Welcome, Stranger: Public Libraries Build The Global Village," a report published by the Chicago-based Urban Libraries Council, tells how libraries are reaching out to immigrants by providing computer and English classes, integrating books written in foreign languages into their collections, and hiring bilingual staff members. (It takes a couple of minutes to download the 20-page report.) This report is a reminder that it's a good idea for educators to be aware of resources offered to immigrant families through their local public libraries. In Oakland, Calif., for example, ...


It's Friday, my supervisor is on spring break, and I don't have a deadline for Education Week until next Wednesday. It's a good day for me to play around with a database tool that provides state-by-state information about immigrants. The Washington-based Migration Policy Institute announced this week it had updated one of the databases in its immigration data hub with 2006 data. What I imagine is most relevant to readers of Learning the Language is the "language and education" fact sheet available from the 2006 American Community Survey/Census Data tool on the Migration Policy Institute's Web site. I found ...


The editors of Education Week got an e-mail message this week from Yvonne Watterson, an Arizona principal who was recently featured in the New York Times for becoming an advocate for her undocumented high school students. She raised funds to pay for some of her students to take college courses, given that Arizona has a new law that denies undocumented students the opportunity to pay in-state tuition rates at colleges and universities. (See "Arizona Principal Goes into 'Advocacy Mode.' ") In her e-mail, Ms. Watterson let us know she's edited a book, Documented Dreams, containing thank you letters her students ...


Breakthrough, an international human rights organization, put out a curriculum guide this week to correspond with its free video game: "ICED: I Can End Deportation." In the game, players take on the role of one of five immigrant teens—and see what they encounter in day-to-day life. The 115-page curriculum guide, which Breakthrough says it has aligned with New York State and New York City social studies and English-language-arts standards, takes the position that current U.S. immigration laws deny due process for immigrants. The guide suggests that teachers can use the game and curriculum to teach a 10-day unit...


A number of states have created policies that tell school districts how to apply test scores from English-language-proficiency tests when deciding if English-language learners should leave special programs. States developed new English-proficiency tests, which measure students' progress in reading, writing, speaking, and listening, to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act. The tests are also intended to assess students' knowledge of "academic English"—the language of school. Read about the new wave of state policies in "States Seeking Proper Balance in Use of ELL Test Scores," which I wrote for this week's issue of Education Week....


The Orlando Sentinel ran an article this week, "Immigrants want to blend in, keep mother tongue," that touches on some big-picture issues concerning language policy in this country. The United States has never made English its official language, although 30 states have, it says. It tells some personal stories of immigrants or children of immigrants who want to blend in with U.S. society by speaking English yet also want to keep their language and culture....


I'm always interested in how speakers of languages other than English are keeping those languages alive, since the pressure to use English in this country often overshadows efforts to help people maintain their native languages. The Minnesota Humanities Center, which receives funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, is one source of funding for projects to revitalize indigenous languages and culture in Minnesota. The center recently announced $5,000 grants to six different educational projects. The projects are expected to produce an illustrated alphabet book in Dakota, a children's book written in Ojibwe and Dakota featuring an elder who ...


"How serious are you about leaving your beautiful Puerto Rico and moving to the U.S.?" a recruiter from the Boston public school system asks a Puerto Rican teacher being wooed to work in Boston, according to a March 18 Boston Globe article. "Don't do it," I protested internally, as I read this article about how Nydia Mendez, director of programs for English-language learners for the Boston school system, and others recently visited Puerto Rico to recruit bilingual teachers. I was thinking of a moment when I visited Boston and stood on an elevated platform in winter, waiting for a ...


Over at the ELL Advocates blog, Stephen Krashen tried to poke a hole in claims reported in an article in the Oregonian that new methods for teaching English-language learners in Oregon resulted in higher test scores on the state's English-language-proficiency test last school year than in the previous school year. Mr. Krashen is a professor emeritus of education at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, who frequently comments publicly on shortcomings he perceives in journalists' reporting on ELLs. Mr. Krashen read on the Oregon department of education Web site that the state had recently standardized its testing of English ...


South Dakota has become the 17th state to decide to adopt ACCESS for ELLs, which is being used by more states than any other English-language-proficiency test to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act's requirement that schools test ELLs every year in their progress in English. The test is designed to assess ELLs in reading, writing, speaking, and listening, and was created by the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment, or WIDA, consortium. WIDA was formed for the purpose of developing English-language-development standards and a test aligned with them. The previous generation of English-language-proficiency tests typically only assessed listening ...


A Spanish-speaking student or parent in Springdale, Ark., might tune into a local Spanish radio station or watch a local program on Univision these days and hear a public service announcement emphasizing the importance of state standardized tests. The 16,500-student Springdale school district has created such a public service announcement to try to motivate Spanish-speaking students to do better on state tests, according to a March 13 article in the Arkanas Democrat. The article tells how 17 out of 22 Springdale schools failed to meet federal testing standards (otherwise known as "adequate yearly progress" goals) last spring on state ...


Yvonne Watterson, a principal of an early-college high school in Phoenix, fought for her students who lacked residency and citizenship papers in the United States to continue to take college classes. The Arizona statute, Proposition 300, discontinued the opportunity for undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities. And some of the high school students in Ms. Watterson's school who were taking college courses fell into that category as well. Read more in the story that Samuel G. Freedman, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, has written about Ms. Watterson that was published March 12 ...


I know at least one person here in the nation's capital who follows issues concerning English-language learners and at times has been as persistent as I have been in bugging the U.S. Department of Education for information: Don Soifer, the executive vice president for the Lexington Institute, in Arlington, Va., a conservative think tank. Both Mr. Soifer and I have noticed that the Education Department has so far taken one extra year to prepare a two-year evaluation of programs for English-language learners than it took to prepare its previous evaluation on such programs. The two-year report to the U.S....


An author of a letter to the editor of the Daily Herald published today contends that some school districts in Illinois are fulfilling the state's mandate to provide bilingual education by hiring Spanish-speaking teachers who aren't fluent in English nor certified to teach. She says Illinois should provide flexibility for schools to choose the method to teach English-language learners. I came across the letter over at TESOL in the News Blog. Someone called VLN, who apparently favors the mandate, writes in the comment section below the letter: "It's not just about learning English. It's about preserving their native language and ...


In trying to help English-language learners to feel more welcome, officials of the Phoenix-Talent School District in Phoenix, Ore., are starting with school buses, according to a March 10 article in the Mail Tribune. At a recent training, 15 bus drivers were told that it's important for them to greet students warmly, learn their names, and keep them engaged by delegating responsibilities. (Sounds like a good policy for interacting with people in general.) A high school student is quoted in the article as saying that some bus drivers often act irritated and she wishes that they were friendlier. I couldn't ...


For at least a decade, one-fourth of California's primary and secondary school students have, on average, been English-language learners. So educators in states that are the "new kids on the block" in teaching such students might want to spend some time with EdSource's report, "English Learners in California: What the Numbers Say." (The 16-page report costs $5.) The report gives some answers to important questions about student achievement, and poses some additional questions that need to be answered. Those answers will carry weight because California enrolls one-third of the nation's ELLs. It's interesting, for example, that the EdSource researchers found ...


If signed into law, a bill passed in the Utah legislature last week would help create 15 dual-language programs at elementary schools, according to a March 7 article in the Salt Lake Tribune. The programs would teach Chinese, Spanish, French, and Navajo, along with English. Last summer, the legislature in Texas passed a bill to create a six-year pilot project for dual-language programs in 10 Texas school districts. See "School Districts That Offer Dual-Language Classes Through High School." In dual-language programs, children who are native speakers of English and children who are native speakers of another language, such as Spanish, ...


Several of Education Week's blogs, including Learning the Language, have received "excellent" ratings from a company called Blogged.com. I received an e-mail message from a marketing person from the company saying my blog had been given a 9.5 score out of 10 by editors who evaluated my blog according to frequency of updates, relevance of content, site design, and writing style. According to Webware: Cool Web 2.0 Apps for Everyone, Blogged.com is a blog rating service that launched on Feb. 25. The "About Us" section of blogged.com says it has a database of more than ...


Over the weekend, I traveled to Memphis to give a speech about trends in the education of English-language learners. I spoke during a luncheon at the annual conference of the Tennessee Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Here are the trends that I talked about: --More immigrant families are moving to small-town or rural communities that haven't received many immigrants for at least a century. (I noted that some school districts in those small towns and rural areas do a good job of quickly putting programs in place to serve English-language learners while others don't.) --The federal No ...


I draw your attention to the reporting project that took me to Amman, Jordan, for 10 days: "The Lost Years: Iraqi Students in Jordan," a collection of photos, videos, and an in-depth article about Iraqi refugees. It was published this week by Education Week. The project isn't, of course, about English-language learners in the United States—the subject of this blog—but many of the nation's ELLs are refugees and the piece might give you some insight into issues affecting displaced people in general. What was most surprising to me in reporting for this project was that so many Iraqi...


Geraldo Rivera, the T.V. star who hosts a show on Fox News, has written a book, His Panic: Why Americans Fear Hispanics in the U.S. He argues that the U.S. Congress should provide a path to legalization for the 12 million people in this country lacking residency or citizenship papers. He writes: "Who but the most eager and hardy can walk across forty or fifty miles of parched desert, dodge dopers, coyotes, and the feds, endure hardship and risk life and limb just to get a job at the other end of a gauntlet of discomfort and ...


Radio Arte, a public radio station in the Pilson neighborhood of Chicago, is putting young Latinos' voices on the air. Martin Macias, who is 18, broadcast a commentary, "How to Get My Vote," on Radio Arte that was picked up last month by National Public Radio. "In Chicago, immigration reform is the hottest issue," Martin says in his radio commentary. "My people want to know if mass deportation is the kind of radical change that comes with a new president. We don't support it." He also informs the radio audience that candidates better not assume any more that Latinos don't ...


Some teachers at Roswell High School and members of the Roswell, N.M., community are still upset over how a high school senior was sent back to Mexico three months ago after a local policeman assigned to the school ticketed her for driving without a license. A March 4 article published by the Associated Press provides details not reported earlier about the debate in that community over whether it was appropriate for a police officer to call immigration authorities to a school campus. See "New Mexico Teen Detained at School and Deported." For an Education Week article on the subject ...


Some researchers have tried to figure out how much one can increase one's salary by mastering a foreign language, according to a Feb. 28 article posted at ABC News. The article, "Learn a Language, Get a Raise," cites research by Aimee Chin, an associate professor in the economics department at the University of Houston, that found immigrants to the U.S. who transition from speaking English "well" to "very well" increase their wages by 30 percent. (That's a statistic some of you teachers might want to show your English-language learners who are trying to move to an advanced level of ...


Let me point you to a couple of reports released this winter that synthesize some of the research out there on English-learners. I had hoped to go back to some of the original research to further investigate some of those conclusions. But the morning hours are slipping away, so I'll leave that for another day. "Challenging Common Myths About Young English Language Learners," by Linda M. Espinosa, is a policy brief of the New York City-based Foundation for Child Development. Here's one of the myths stated in the paper: "Latino English-language learners are less likely to be enrolled in pre-kindergarten ...


The administrators of the Diamond Lake School District 76 in Mundelein, Ill., don't want to have to provide bilingual education, even though Illinois requires it when a school district has at least 20 students who speak a language other than English, according to a Feb. 27 article in the Chicago Tribune. In "Mundelein District Challenges State Over Bilingual Education," the administrators of Diamond Lake contend that a decision to provide instruction almost entirely in English in 2003 has led to improved test scores. The state just learned in a review last spring that the school district had made the switch ...


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