Thursday, March 12, 2009

English Learners' Bill of Rights

This might be old news for some of you, but at the last California Association of Bilingual Education (CABE) Conference, the following "English Learners' Bill of Rights" was presented

The CABE-Pearson “English Learners’ Bill of Rights” offers eight specific guiding principles:

1. English Learners benefit from a learning environment in which they feel respected, safe and secure.

2. English Learners should be treated equitably in terms of time spent meeting their individual needs.

3. English Learners benefit from focused instruction from teachers who have specialized training and understanding necessary to effectively teach students whose first language is not English.

4. English Learners benefit from curriculum and instructional materials that are academically challenging, possess age-appropriate content, and include subject matter that is at grade level; this includes culturally responsive methodologies and materials.

5. English Learners benefit from access to instructional materials that make the necessary accommodations for the varying levels of English proficiency.

6. English Learners benefit from being taught in a way that allows them to maintain their native language to be able to transfer and apply knowledge of their native language and culture to the study of English.

7. English Learners benefit from attending schools with the resources and expertise necessary to meet their needs.

8. English Learners benefit from the involvement of their parents in their education – this essential ingredient for closing the achievement gap should be fostered.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Student suspended for refusing to take English language test

Lori Phanachone, a senior at Storm Lake High School, refused to take the English Language Development Test and, as a result, was suspended for a week. Any student who marks that they speak another language besides English at home on their school registration form is required to take the test. I think this story hit a personal note since my own daughter was required to take this test on transferring into the public schools in high school. Here was my child, who had scored in the 99th percentile in the English standardized test that year, and spoke both French and Spanish fluently, asked to take a test of basic English skills. Obviously there is something wrong with this process if so many fluent English speakers are being singled out. I, as a parent, felt insulted. But I think the eloquent words of Lori Phanachone make the boldest statement against the ludicrous practice of testing anyone who speaks another language at home.
"For example, in the speaking part of the test the instructor asked me to describe the chair I was sitting in. Then I was shown a picture and asked to write one sentence about the picture. I have a 3.9 GPA and am ranked 7th in my graduating class. I was told that the test is to prove that I am able to speak, write, read, and comprehend English. My response was, "Have I not proved myself for the past 13 plus years? For the school and federal government to throw this test in my face, when I could have aced it in first grade, is wrong. Someone told me last year to put English as my first language when I registered for school, but I refuse to do so. I will not deny who I am and will not disrespect my culture or my mother,"

View the full article here.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

"they are not becoming fluent in English..."

I have long been a supporter of foreign language immersion programs for children. Time and again immersion in a second language, especially at a young age, has shown itself to be the quickest and most effective method for learning a second language. Many students have benefited from learning a second language in this manner and have become successfully bilingual. However, it is important to remember that there are two different types of language students in the US; native English speakers who are learning a second language and native speakers of another language who are learning English. The reasons for language learning in these two groups are different as are the needs of each group. The first group learns a second language for the added benefit bilingualism will bring, the latter for the pure necessity of it. The native English-speakers will learn a second language and will not lose their native language because it is the dominant language of the country in which they live. They are surrounded by English.

Native speakers of another language can easily lose their native language if not continuously exposed to it. Young immigrants, who attend English-only schools frequently fail to achieve an advanced level in their language, have limited vocabulary and rarely learn to write in that language. What a tremendous loss for children who could easily have become bilingual. But on the flip side, those same students take much longer to learn English when placed in transitional classrooms in which the majority of their day is taught in their native language and in which they are grouped with other students who share the same native language. This is the very issue that has caused many districts to rethink their bilingual programs and has spread so much concern about the cost versus the benefit of such programs.

District officials in Commerce City, Colorado have become concerned by this as reported by The Denver Post yesterday:

Fifty-four percent of Adams 14's 6,500 students are English-language learners, and recent studies have shown they are not becoming fluent in English as they move through the district.

"The majority of students who have been in the district for six years still remain limited in proficiency of English," said Superintendent Sue Chandler in a letter to parents. "There is little indication of progress in literacy and language."

Chandler said the district is ditching its bilingual policy that was "overly proscriptive" and moving to a flexible policy that will "allow the district to develop a program to best meet the needs of all students who are acquiring English."

"The fact is we haven't changed it yet," Albright said about the new language policy. "But we know we need to do something better."

It is doubtful that Commerce City is alone in confronting this issue. There is obviously a problem about many of these bilingual programs that needs to be addressed. It is unfair for these students to lag so far behind their peers in English. But what system would work better? I can only imagine that the "correct solution" would vary widely by community. But whatever solution is created needs to take into account both English language acquisition and native language maintenance. Only in this way are we truly educating these students to their full capacity.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Website of the week

There's a new website/blog dedicated to raising bilingual children called Spanglish Baby. Spanglish Baby was started by two mom's Roxana and Ana Lilian who are working through the challenge of raising bilingual children. Here is some of what you can find on the website:
Daily Learning: What our kids teach us everyday and what we learn through others on the same mission.

Ask an Expert: Readers get their questions answered by a variety of experts.

Must Reads: Informative posts about bilingualism and relevant topics.

Reviews & Recommendations: Books, music, movies, toys, etc…We tell you what we like and don’t and why.

The Culture of Food: Recipes we find and share. Food brings us closer to our culture.

Traditions & Culture: Ways of keeping our native traditions alive at home.

Your Story: We invite you to share your family story with us. How are you doing it?
They also have an online store where you can purchase educational Spanish and bilingual resources. Not to mention, I will soon be featured as one of their experts on bilingual education! So be sure to check them out.

Monday, March 02, 2009

SF provides language programs for all

Wouldn't it be great if all children had access to foreign language programs. Well, in San Francisco they soon will. The school board passed the resolution on December 12, 2006 stating,
"Preparing students for our world of multilingualism and multiculturism has become an integral and indispensable part of the educational process.”
It appears the SF school district is well on its way way to achieving its goal of providing language opportunities to all of its students. I'm happy to hear that SFUSD has made such a bold step and hope that others will soon follow.

View full article here.