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Proposed Reduction of Training for Florida's Reading Teachers


Right now, the Florida Department of Education is a big player in that state's debate over how much training is necessary for reading teachers to effectively teach English-language learners. The department is proposing a reduction in the number of hours of training required for reading teachers in how to work with ELLs, saying that the high bar makes it hard for schools to find such teachers, according to a Dec. 26 article in the Miami Herald. Here's where the matter stands:

Current rules require teachers who educate students learning English to have 300 hours of training. Educators who teach reading need an additional 300 hours. Some districts allow teachers to cut the training nearly in half if they have trained in one area or the other. But the state wants to reduce the training even more, possibly to as little as 90 hours.

The state teachers' union opposes the proposal, as do some educators who argue that the level of training currently required is appropriate.

This debate over teacher training for ELLs has been going on in Florida for a couple of years. I last wrote about it in Education Week in April 2008.


Three years ago, the Florida DOE announced a professional development plan called The Crosswalks. Teachers who completed the Reading Endorsement required two additional 60 hour courses and a 60 hour practicum in order to serve ELLs, for a total of 180 hours. The plan was developed after analysis of the reading program performance objectives and after analysis of the requirements of the 1990 META Consent Decree. Three years ago, legislators attempted to pass a bill that would categorize Reading teachers as content area teachers (math, science, social studies)so the requirement would equal one non-specific 60 hour class. The DOE did not support that bill and it was vetoed by Governor Crist. In committee testimony provided by the DOE invited expert, it was stated that the Reading Endorsement program does not prepare reading teachers to serve the needs of ELLs.

Now, the DOE has walked away from the Crosswalks and introduces the Capstone which is one 60 hour course and a 30 hour practicum. The content of that course has not been defined. There is a lack of clarity over the State's commitment to equal educational access and its commitment to the 1990 Consent Decree. While the question of hours is part of the issue, the disagreement is about ensuring literacy and academic achievement for ELLs. That policy makers fail to make the connection between high quality professional development programs and student achievement is bewildering.

I witnessed an incident which helped me to remember why I am aiding in the advocacy-fight for Reading teachers to get the full 300-hour ESOL Endorsement professional development / training. I was a participant in a parent-teacher conference early this morning; my role was the ESOL Contact Educator. The student is a 14-year-old freshman LY female named Vera. She was adopted when she was age 12, from an orphanage in Russia, and had a "dubious" educational history there. According to her adoptive parent, it sounds as if Vera's prior schooling was hit-or-miss, with a lot of attendance gaps, poor teachers, a school building devoid of educational materials, and with very poor curriculum and instruction, and Vera most likely had reading comprehension skills several years below grade-level in her native Russian, not that these were measured while she was living in the orphanage there.

Her adoptive parent in Florida is a very-proactive, very involved American female lawyer who I'll call Ms. L. Vera has been here a little bit over 2 years. She also has a 504 Plan for some medical / physical health issues, but is not considered ESE.

Vera was struggling academically across the high school curriculum during first quarter, but has brought all of her grades up 2nd quarter to a range from A's to C's. I did some ESOL intervention work with a few of her teachers in September-October, and spoke to them about ESOL accommodations and strategies for Vera, which helped. The purpose of this morning's meeting was for Mom to get a sense of how to help Vera prepare for her final exams in January in all her subjects, find out about the exam formats, availability of study guides, what to study in the various textbooks or workbooks, whether to get Vera to make flashcards for studying for her various exams, etc.

Vera attends a double-period block of Intensive Reading daily....her current grade there is C or C-....one of her worst subjects right now. The Reading teacher, who I'll call Ms. B., was present at our conference. Ms. B. blithely told us that there was nothing for Vera to study for her Reading exams....she could not study Spelling, she could not study Grammar, she could not study Writing, and she could not study Reading Comprehension. So Ms. L. inquired about the spelling tests that Vera seems to do so poorly in; would there be spelling as part of the final exam in Intensive Reading? Oh yes, Ms. B. said that there is definitely spelling on the final exam. However, Ms. B. also replied that "the reading program" would not allow her to release / send home lists of spelling words to study. (Notice how the responsibility for this has shifted to the Program as Dictator.) There is nothing to study, Ms. B. said again. The students in Intensive Reading – the Language! book series, E-F Levels (Sopris-West publishers) are supposed to be able to "figure out how to spell the words using phonics". Well, that's just the problem, Ms. L and I said in unison. Vera's first language was Russian and her first alphabet was Cyrillic and she has to LEARN our American English spelling words by studying them, she cannot yet always "figure them out using phonics". Ms. B. then said, in an attempt to be reassuring, that "only a few of the words are hard.....most of them are easy spelling words!". Ms. L. and I looked at her in amazement --- Ms. B. obviously has no comprehension of what it means to be tested on spelling words in a foreign language using a foreign alphabet and not being allowed all of the tools to prepare ahead of time. The deck is stacked against Vera.

Then Ms. L. inquired about Grammar.... apparently Vera is not doing all that well on the Grammar portions of Content Mastery tests in the Language! Book series E-F level program, either. I asked if Vera could bring the Content Mastery booklet home, the answer was yes she can. I asked Ms. B. if Mom is going to find enough information in this booklet to re-explain the grammar points to Vera. Ms. B. side-stepped that question and was not able to answer it (or did not understand the question). So we have an LY student learning Grammar points taught in English by an Intensive Reading teacher with very minimal ESOL training, using a scripted-method series which is ostensibly for teaching intensive reading. (Why are there grammar points there at all? Why is Vera not having English grammar taught to her by an ESOL specialist teacher in a 'Developmental Language Arts Through ESOL' class, using ESL materials, you may ask? The answer is "Budget resources".)

In Intensive Reading classes around here, they do grammar, they do spelling, they learn about suffixes and prefixes, they do a lot of phonics, they do a little reading comprehension once in a while, and they also write a lot -- sentences, paragraphs, and they even write essays. All these activities are in the scripted "reading method" that is used county-wide here in all of our secondary schools, with all Gen Ed, ESE and ESOL students attending these Intensive Reading classes. The students will have to write an essay as part of their final exam in Intensive Reading, also, it turns out. Hmmmmmmm. So the Reading teacher will be grading the written essay of a Russian-born student who still has a significant language barrier after 2 years in the country, even though the Reading teacher only has the Reading Endorsement (she does not have the 'English Language Arts 6-12' professional certification nor the ESOL K-12 professional certification, and she has only begun her ESOL Endorsement cycle of 5 free courses)..... the reading teacher Ms. B. used to be a real estate agent, in fact.

But the state still believes that Reading teachers can teach the entire population of students?? Does it sound like Vera is being well-served by this 2-hours-a-day Intensive Reading course? Is this helping Vera to read and write in English? Is it helping her to understand what she reads in other academic contents? Ms. B. is well-intentioned but clueless.

The above comment concerns me. Who would be teaching grammar out of a textbook and making it such a high priority. Grammar is learned gradually and over a long period of time. It is not learned explicitly very well and when students are taught grammar they can't internalize, they go back to their real language level when not do specific exercises. There is a huge problem in education that language development knowledge of any kind is not part of educational preparation. You can see it in English classes, and in foreign languages classes. Seeing it in ESOL classes where the teachers are supposed to have the knowledge is very concerning. The fact that the child is adopted tells me that much of her native language learning has been cut off which causes further and deeper problems.

As for Florida, I guess the teachers in Florida are too brilliant to receive adequate training in ESOL students, they know it already!


It is sad that the Department continues to stutter and stumble trying to find itself. It may be high time that the Governor's Office steps in and cleans house one final time before the Department implodes from a total lack of leadership. This situation at the State level looks remarkably like the federal picture where the entire country is literally in rebellion against NCLB and its ignorant attempts to equate accountability with one-size-fits-all testing. Governor Bush's legacy to Governor Crist is a confused and misguided stubborn and blind attempot to ignore the voters of the state and destroy our schools through privatization. Fortunately for our students, their parents and grandparents stood together and voted against Jeb's class size deceitful plans when he was in Tallahassee. Time and time again, the Hispanic Caucus backed Governor Crist in vetoing any attempt to water down teacher training programs throughout the state. If it was not for the efforts of all Floridians standing together against these continuing profiteering attempts, ELL, ESE and all children will be left behind.

It is amazing that even after we have voted them out of office that these deceitful people continue to hurt our children and our citizens. They are now attempting to sell this snake oil "literacy" in South America, the Middle East, Europe and Asia and it is time that we Americans tell the world of our last eight years of pain and suffering with this destructivess and this bankruptcy of future generations.

Thank you for continuing to bring our struggle before a national audience, Mary Ann. It's truly dispiriting that the Department of Education of a state with over a quarter of a million English language learners would seek to endanger these children by lowering the qualifications of the teachers who work with them. We know that teaching reading to native speakers and to language learners is not the same, and that working with ELLs requires ample preparation in methods, materials development, cross-cultural communication and understanding, applied linguistics and assessment of ELLs. We have known this since 1990 when the Flordia Consent Decree was signed.

First, it was Proposition 227. Two more followed in Arizona and Massachusetts. Two more attempts happened in Colorado and Oregon.

In Florida, the attempts didn't go to a vote of the people. Instead, law was attempted by the legislature. It was vetoed once. The bill returned in the same language the next year; only the date on the writing was changed. Again, it failed.

But it hasn't gone away. Now it appears in the form of Education department rules.

The means are different; the desired results are the same.

The Education department follows its own rules by issuing documentation and offering public comment. It even includes meetings for doing so, as stated in the rules.

However, where the announcements occur is a subtle. Those searching depend on Google and other tricks to find out how rules are followed. How stakeholders are decided isn't announced. Lists of credentials for these stakeholders is hard to get a hold of. ELL-related statistics are hard to obtain in spite of a massive data-base project which should make such extremely simple.

Then, for public hearings on the rules, those affected most--the parents and their children--many who can't speak English--have to take off work in mid-morning at a difficult-to-reach place, demanding undue expense at the real stakeholders' meeting.

And for nearly three years now, the language education community--both inside Florida and beyond its borders--has almost in unison overtly disagreed with a notion that teaching reading in the first language is the same as teaching a whole second language.

And yet, here we are: fighting a proposition of a capstone course. A capstone of what? There's no pre-training course identified; hence, it must be a capstone that shows that teaching first language reading IS the same as second language teaching.

After over two years of discussion, we're still at this fundamental notion: L1 reading ≠ L2.

So why would a state's department of education ignore the position statements of an entire profession?

Let me ask you to hold on to that question while pondering the writings of Paulo Freire and bell hooks.

Paulo Freire's "assistencialism" taps the phenomenon of a power squelching voices of the less powerful. Freire posited two thoughts: 1) that assistencialism is "the force of decrees and the irrational fanaticism of crusands, instead of defending basic transformations in society which would treat men as persons" and 2) that it "is an especially pernicious method of trying to vitiate popular participation in the historical process[; . . .] it contradicts man’s natural vocation as Subject in that it treats the recipient as the passive object, incapable of participating in the process of his own recuperation; in the second place, it contradicts the process of “fundamental democratization.”

Finally, Freire says that "The greatest danger of assistencialism is the violence of its anti-dialogue, , which by imposing silence and passivity denies men conditions likely to develop or to “open” their consciousness" (page 12 of Education for Critical Consciousness).

bell hooks writes in her 1989 Talking Back: "Now when I ponder the silences, the voices that are not heard, the voices of those wounded and/or oppressed individuals who do not speak or write, I contemplate the acts of persecution, torture--the terrorism that breaks spirits, that makes creativity impossible" (page 7).

So . . .

when we see

meeting times hard to garner,

meeting places difficult to reach,

packets of language education theory ignored,

and over 20 letters from civil rights organizations tossed to the side, . . .

all done under the guise of "having followed the rules," . . .

we must ponder the degree to which cloaking rule development comes to the advantage of those in power. Do they actually seek to squelch the voices of our new citizens and their children? Unbelievably, we must wonder about the degree to which the State is really interested in ALL of its children . . .

at all.

If there were real respect for families of ESOL kids (or for our profession), this conversation would have ended within the first week . . . if that!

There seems to be a clear attempt to either scrub or simply ignore the Florida Consent Decree. However, it won't be up to the language educators to make a difference here.

However, I do maintain that while there's frustration, there is indeed hope.

We can remember the kids in Soweto in 1976, who demonstrated by dancing the toyi toyi, against an oppressive language education policy, especially those murdered by the police as they danced. And we can remember the students through the US South, who protested segregated sections at restaurants. They understood one particular notion: that those in power actually understand their vulnerability. Those in power must feel their vulnerability; otherwise, these measures, these edits, and these tricks would never be necessary.

Again, bell hooks describes the bravery involved in speaking out when doing so is necessary: Moving from silence into speech is for the oppressed, the colonized, the exploited, and those who stand and struggle side by side a gesture of defiance that heals, that makes new life and new growth possible. It is that act of speech, of “talking back,” that is no mere gesture of empty words, that is the expression of our movement from object to subject--the liberated voice" (Talking Back, page 9).

Am I being overly dramatic? I don't think so. As society advances in accepting the beauties of a multicultural and multilingual society, we should be equally unsurprised to see a rising in the sophistication of its oppression. Thus, subtlety becomes a strong weapon.

The "stakeholders" seem to say, "We care, but it's too much work." The Board of Governors might say, "You can do what you want so long as it fits into 120 credit hours." We have to ask a question of priority: What is more important? a) the children? or b) you? What is more crucial to consider? a) the people who take over our future? or b) you now?

The voices of the State almost always answer these questions with the (a)'s. Their actions assert the answer is clearly the (b)'s.

So, we as language educators can scream, but it will be the real "stakeholders" who really need voice: the parents and perhaps most importantly the kids themselves. We haven't seen that yet in Florida's case. We haven't seen the kids' voices in Prop 227, nor in Arizona, nor in Massachusetts.

But we did see the kids' voice in Soweto that fateful day--that horrible horrible day.

I do not advocate violence. Nor do I wish to abuse the children who I seek to help. Both would be, in my mind, legitimate concerns. Nor do I wish in any shape or form any violence against our students like that we saw in Soweto nearly 33 years ago.

But there is violence being committed against ESOL students, subtle though it may be.

There is no legitimate reason for the State to ignore the ESOL families or language teaching community. And yet they do--just as those South African Education ministers did in 1975.

I think a very good complement to this kind of sites is to practise with a real teacher like in Linkua, live language tutoring.
Classes are done via videoconference.

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