The Learning Curve is a weekly, jargon-free column that answers questions about education. Have a question about how your local schools work? Write me at Mario.Koran@voiceofsandiego.org.
I was a first-year teacher, in over my head.
With no formal training– and little preparation of any kind – I stepped into a classroom at a school for juvenile offenders. Students didn’t choose to come to my class. The state of Colorado mandated they be there.
It was a difficult school to work in. Teachers cycled in and out. That’s the reason I got the job: The school was short-handed and looking for a warm body with a college degree. I applied for an emergency teaching credential, which allowed me to work so long as I enrolled in night classes to learn how to actually be a teacher.
Every student in class had committed a serious, sometimes violent, crime. Students spent the days in classrooms, like typical teenagers, then returned each night to their bunks at the opposite side of campus.
We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?
California has a problem from a core of people who think they are not "ethnic" and throw state initiatives and force legislation against English learners. The problem those same people pose, is raising low test scores. There are two groups of children who struggle k-12, English learners and Special Ed students. Special Ed students get short shrift because the Federal government consistently underfunds mandated programs by 40% each year. The gap that ensues is never really completely filled by local school districts. The funds local school districts use for special ed diminish funding for English Learners. Most of the low scores in schools go to these two groups.
Some people think that all children come to school ready to learn. They don't. Some people don't want to pay for improving learning for English Learners and Special Ed students.
Money can and does solve specific learning difficulties. Special Ed and English Learners are highly labor intensive and require specific skill sets that cannot be justifiably hoisted onto the regular ed students nor the regular ed teachers. If California and the ensnarled bureaucracy created by California would get out of the way California could be top in the nation for education.
There are people who are uniquely qualified to teach English Language Learners and Special Ed students, they just need to be allowed to do so. State colleges must begin to ramp up again teaching programs for teachers to teach English Language Learners and Special Education students.
I agree with your other commenters: I would encourage you to dive deeper into the data. All ELs are not the same, so it's hard to generalize. The district has pockets of ELs that speak a host of languages (reportedly 65). One area might be predominantly Vietnamese, another Somali, another a pocket of Arabic languages, etc. Then there is the issue of when the students immigrated here and what their backgrounds are. There is a difference between a student who immigrated here at say 8 years old vs 15 years old. There is a huge difference between a 12 year old who was in school in their home nation vs. one who had been living in a refugee camp for five years and had limited access to education. And what is the overlap between the long-term ELs and Special Education? Students with IEPs tend to struggle relative to their peers in academics and/or testing, so it would stand to reason that ELs with IEPs might be slower to reclassify as well.
Finally, dig deeper into what SDUSD is doing for their ELs now compared to a couple of years ago. There is tremendous concern because the district stopped funding English Language Support Teachers (ELSTs) across the district, and schools are finding that, without the ELST support, their ELs are slipping through the cracks.
It is refreshing to see VOSD doing work, where the subject matter is not positive, on a school so far north of highway 8.
I conclude that the failure is not on the part of the students, but of the educators. It is always so.
As to your related story "What should teachers do when students are illiterate in two languages?", I respectfully ask you to to think again while consulting a dictionary. The verb form of illiterate means the inability to read or write. If a person becomes literate, in any language, they cease being illiterate, thus making illiteracy, in two languages, impossible. Do better when writing about education.
In one of the classes that I took, in order to teach English Learners, the text said that for non-English speaking students at the high school level, you should teach them in their native language.
Whether Physics or Philosophy, when they master English, and they will, all the knowledge will transfer from one language to the other.
If we really want to educate recently arrived high school children, we need to provide Spanish speaking teachers.
"At Kearney, English Learners score higher than at other district high schools", this article says.
Kearney is in a majority Asian neighborhood. What percent of the "English Learners" are Vietnamese?
The vast majority of Vietnamese last immigrated in 1986. By now, they have learned academic English.
I would be interested to see the breakdown, by language, of those classified as English Learners.
If they are all Spanish speakers, teach them in Spanish...regardless of what the political haters say.