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English-Language Learners in Portable Classrooms

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A complaint filed with the office for civil rights of the U.S. Department of Education questions if it's good for ELLs who are newcomers and attending a middle school in Utah to be separated from other students and taught in a newcomer program, according to an article published this week in The Salt Lake City Tribune.

Interestingly, the article also gives the following information about Michael Clara, the person who filed the complaint: "He's specifically concerned about the school's decision to house newcomers outside the main building in portable classrooms."

Let me attest to the fact that in my visits to classes for ELLs over the last nine years, I have noticed that a lot of English-language learners are taught in portable classrooms across this country (I acknowledge this is anecdotal information). While I suppose portable classrooms are a good way to provide classroom space while a school district is waiting to build permanent classrooms, I can't think of any good reason why ELLs should be assigned to those classrooms in any greater proportion than other students. It doesn't seem fair.

It will be interesting to see if the office for civil rights picks up on this issue. And if you are a teacher of ELLs who has been assigned to a portable classroom, you might want to slip this article into your superintendent's mailbox with the part about portable classrooms highlighted.

1 Comment

Mary Ann:

Thanks for giving this subject the air time it deserves. It is incredible that the Office of Civil Rights now has to make the rounds so our ELL students would have a place to call home.

Upon further reflection, I start to realize little has changed in almost forty years. The principal at Pineview Elementary School did not even have a portable for me and my 4 students in 1975. We were given a table on the stage in the cafeteria room, and the staff pulled the curtain to give us "privacy" when lunch was served every day promptly at 11:00.

It is shocking to realize given all the education reform fads of the last four decades that we continue to sacrifice "comprehensible instruction"(Lau v Nichols) and "least restrictive environment"(IDEA) to the dressed up privatization schemes of testing and grading schools in the name of accountability.

Most of all, it is unconscionable with all our advances in technology and our knowledge base about learning styles and brain-based learning, that we continue in the Twenty-First Century to subject yet another generation of young teachers to the mindset of a 19th century agrarian system of centralized decision-making by a district Board of Education completely cut off and disconnected from the learning process.

Finally, given the collapse of our business community, would it not make sense for us to stop listening to the Business Roundtable and the National Chamber of Commerce whose only clue to education is how to create more one-size-fits-all testing schema and a bigger profit margin on the back of our public schools?

At the end of the day, we in education need to come to the realization that educators are not PR men, not fundraisers, not politicians. Our jobs are still to teach, and until we reward our best teachers, the K-16 education we owe our children needs more than a slogan. In the name of our values, in the name of fairness, in the name of dignity, isn't it about time that good teachers can come out of their portables and show the world what my students have known for a very long time: Communists could not stop them, dictators cannot terrorize them, missionaries cannot deter their faith, so how will lying politicians who try to deceive their parents in the name of No Child Left Behind stop them? No, my four students endure that heat in that small space just as they endure the boat trip that took them to the refugee camp, and if I was ever to think of myself as a teacher worth my grain of salt, I would look at every single Secretary and Commissioner of Education of the last four decades and repeat Jesus' prayer to his Father on the cross: father, forgive them, because they know not what they do. Our students and their parents and our teachers will overcome, because that's what they do.

Two of my four students that year went on to graduate as valedictorians from their HS. One of them is now a practicing physician in SoCal. Yes, gthey are grateful to this country for taking them in as refugees, and yes, they have learnt that we are the government we deserve. We deserve that change yesterday !

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