California School Transitions ELLs to Common Core

Even though Laurel Elementary School in Los Angeles faces considerable challenges, it boasts an impressive list of accolades.

Most Laurel students come from low-income backgrounds, and about 60 percent are English Language Learners. The students have tended to perform better on math than language arts on California standardized tests, according to The Hechinger Report.

The Hechinger Report article discusses how educators at the school are preparing for the transition toward common core standards, which will be more rigorous and demand more advanced language skills from students.

In response, educators at the school are infusing more language development into math classes. Third-grade teacher Alejandra Monroy, who is from Chile, is teaching vocabulary as she explains math concepts.

While teaching students the concept that “3 X 4 = 12” she explained that the first two numbers are “factors” and the entire series a “multiplication sentence.”

Then she explained the concept of patterns through numbers.

“A pattern can be something like red/blue/red/blue right?” Monroy asked. “A sequence that repeats. When you count by skipping numbers — 2-4-6 — you’re doing a pattern.”

If you speak with teachers, how are they preparing to phase in the common core for ELLs? How are their teaching methods changing? When elementary school teachers teach math, how are they changing their approach?

Related Links:

“With new standards, will California’s youngest English learners lose their edge in math?” The Hechinger Report.

“Miami Prepares for Impact of Common Core Standards on ELLs,” Latino Ed Beat.

Schools Expand Dual Language Instruction to High School

A suburban Chicago school district with a Spanish-English dual language program has proven so popular that it will now be expanded to the high school level.

The Chicago Tribune reports that North Shore District 112 first began its program, which serves native English and Spanish speakers, in 1996. It has grown to 636 students, or 15 percent of the school district’s enrollment.

Students learn about 80 percent of the time in Spanish at the younger grade levels in kindergarten through second grade, and reach half Spanish and half English by about fifth grade.

The district’s Highland Park High School, which is 18 percent Hispanic, will add dual courses in science, social studies, and math in coming years.

Both native English and Spanish speakers see the benefit of the program.

Marco Ayala, a doctor, was born to immigrant parents but never learned Spanish. He wanted his son to be bilingual, however.

“We love seeing him do his homework in Spanish,” he told the Tribune. “Comparing his experience to mine, it’s been night and day.”

“Dual Language Classes Bring the Best of Both Worlds to District 112,” Chicago Tribune.
North Shore School District Dual Language Program

Seattle Public Schools Focus on International Schools Model

The Seattle Public Schools system is using an international schools model in an effort to focus on helping English language learners and students learning other languages.

The system’s international schools are taking a dual-language approach that allows students to study in their core subject areas in their primary and secondary language. A recent report by the group Alliance for Excellent Education credits the school system with creating a network of programs that is assisting ELLs with their language development.

“Networks of schools that have embraced cultural and linguistic diversity are producing far better outcomes than traditional schools, which have historically underserved students from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds,” the report says. “Districts are beginning to recognize the need to scale effective designs to support English learners.”

According to the report, district officials want the international schools to equip students with dual-language skills, to focus on preparing students for a global economy, and offer greater support to ELLs. They have targeted opening the international schools in neighborhoods where there are many ELLs and low-income students.

The study looked at two international schools in particular, Denny International Middle School and Chief Sealth International High School, which are located next to each other. They serve a student body that is about 60 percent low-income, and where one-third of students come from homes where languages other than English are spoken.

The high school program also offers the academically rigorous International Baccalaureate program and classes in Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese.

The report’s authors noted that in classes students discussed issues such as language, culture and social justice as they related to their own identities.

The report concludes with a number of policy recommendations for helping secondary schools to create positive academic outcomes for diverse students.

They include focusing schools around language development, developing teachers who value diversity, ensuring that teachers are trained on ELL strategies, and providing ELLs the opportunity to learn alongside non-ELLs.

Related Links:

“New Alliance Report Demonstrates How Seattle Public Schools Prepares English Language Learners for Success in a Globalized World,” Alliance for Excellent Education.

“Embracing Linguistic Diversity: The Role of Teacher Leaders in Building Seattle’s Pipeline of International Schools,” Alliance for Excellent Education.

Seattle Public Schools – International Education

Spanish For Native Speakers College Classes Increase

Latinos raised in Spanish-speaking homes but not formally schooled in Spanish are often caught in a bind when they want to strengthen their language schools in college.

Spanish classes for non-native speakers may not be the best fit, so programs that address the needs of “heritage” speakers are increasingly popping up. As the Latino student population ages, Spanish for Spanish speakers classes could grow in popularity throughout the country.

The Associated Press reports on the trend, noting that it is still developing. Such students may have strong conversation skills, but experience challenges with reading and writing in Spanish, for example.

Harvard and the University of Miami are two examples of institutions that have special classes for such “heritage” speakers.

The AP article describes one student, Dorothy Villarreal, who realized the gaps in her Spanish when she studied abroad in Mexico.

“We were talking about the presidential election, and there was so much I wanted to explain,” Villarreal told the AP. “We’d end up playing a guessing game where I’d speak in English, and my friends, they’d speak back in Spanish to guess what I was saying.”

She is now enrolled in the Harvard heritage language class.

Additionally, the National Heritage Language Resource Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, tracks research on such programs and works on developing effective ways to teach heritage learners. The U.S. Department of Education funds the center. The center could be a possible resource for reporters.

There already are signs of the future demand for such courses. Growing numbers of school districts are using AP Spanish and Language classes with native Spanish-speaking students beginning as early as middle school.

The number of Spanish speakers residing within the United States isn’t dropping any time soon. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that Spanish is the most common language other than in English spoken in homes, even among people who are not Hispanic.

Pew said that according to 2011 American Community Survey Census figures, about 37.6 million people ages five and older speak Spanish in the home.

Related Links:

– “Heritage language programs on the rise,” Associated Press.

– National Heritage Language Resource Center at UCLA.
– “Speaking Spanish Declining Among Latinos in the U.S.” CNN.

– “Spanish is the Most Spoken non-English Language in U.S. Homes, Even Among non-Hispanics,” Pew Research Center.

What Type of Research Is Needed On ELLs?

The U.S. Department of Education is requesting proposals for research studies that would address how to better meet the needs of students who are English Language learners.

In an item appearing in the Federal Register, the department indicates interest in instructional approaches, assessments and training for educators. Written submissions are due by October 9.

The request also seeks studies that could improve meeting the needs of teachers and administrators who work with ELLs.

“The Department anticipates making use of this information to inform the development of our evaluation and research agenda in the coming years and to guide future evaluation and research studies addressing the needs of [ELLs],” the listing reads.

Additionally, the department is interested in ELLs who fall into categories including students with disabilities, middle and high school students and immigrant students with limited formal education.

Other topics of interest include using technology in instructing ELLs, using academic language to promote language acquisition and data collection strategies.

Another earlier announcement in the Federal Register requested guidance on how to improve technical services related to ELLs for educators and state officials.

Learning the Language blogger Lesli Maxwell pointed out that the requests have come amidst concerns that the education department has not addressed the ELL population’s needs.

In particular, some educators are concerned that the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition (NCELA), did not provide particularly current and useful information on how to help ELLs.

Related Links:

– “Request for Information to Inform the Title III Evaluation and Research Studies Agenda,” Federal Register.

– “English-Learner Research: Ed Dept. Looking for Guidance,” Learning the Language Blog, Education Week.

– “Ed. Dept. Seeks Feedback on Supporting English-Learners,” Learning the Language Blog, Education Week.

– National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition (NCELA)

The Challenge for Latino Children in Illinois

The Chicago Public Schools have faced numerous difficulties in the past year: school closures, neighborhood violence and persistently high dropout rates. Latino children make up about 44 percent of the district’s enrollment.

On the Huffington Post Latino Voices blog, Latino Policy Forum Executive Director Sylvia Puente writes about the conditions in Chicago and Illinois, noting last year’s struggles.

“The eyes of the nation were fixed on our corner of Illinois — not just to follow the controversy, but also because as one of the country’s global, diverse cities, Chicago is [a] litmus test of educational realities across the country,” she writes.

Puente writes that improving outcomes for Latino children depends on increasing access to quality preschool programs. Additionally, as Illinois phases in required bilingual education for English Language Learners in preschool, more training is needed for teachers. Lastly, Latino students need access to quality teachers and more Latino teachers.

“Understanding the issues is step one,” Puente writes. “But action — in the form of investments in increased access to quality early care and education in Latino neighborhoods, resources for teachers to pursue linguistic credentials, and strong teacher preparation programs that encourage diverse talent in the profession — is critical, in Chicago, in Illinois, and across the country.”

Read more here.

Related Links:

– “Chicago’s Next Education Crisis Isn’t Limited to Chicago — Here’s Why,” The Huffington Post Latino Voices.

– Latino Policy Forum.

Texas Study Finds ELL Students Face “Triple Segregation”

In Texas, poor Hispanic children who are English language learners often attend intensely segregated schools, a new study has found.

Such children face “triple segregation” because they are isolated by virtue of their ethnicity, socioeconomic background and language skills. The trend is found in both urban and suburban settings.

Education professors Julian Vasquez Heilig and Jennifer Jellison Holme from the University of Texas at Austin examined 2011 demographic data from the Texas Education Agency to make their findings in their study, “Nearly 50 Years Post-Jim Crow: Persisting and Expansive School Segregation for African American, Latina/o and ELL Students in Texas.”

The AP reports that in 2012, about 838,000 limited proficient children attended Texas schools. They made up about 16.2 percent of the total enrollment. In 2011, about 9 percent of Texas schools were found to be majority ELL, with most of those being elementary schools. The study reveals that of Texas schools with a majority ELL enrollment, 89 percent have a study body that is majority economically disadvantaged.

However, the study found a bright spot. Majority-ELL elementary schools were more likely to earn the state’s top ranking of “exemplary” than to be rated low-performing. The researchers found 72 “exemplary” and 15 low-performing majority-ELL elementary schools in Texas, noting that “the state should be applauded for these numbers.”

However, the researchers cautioned that those same children tend to go on to attend low-performing middle and high schools. And ELLs have very high dropout rates in Texas.

Researchers point out that Texas has a long history of segregating its Hispanic children. At first, this was accomplished by placing them in separate schools. Texas schools were targeted with lawsuits because of such practices long before the Brown v. Board case. Later, the state segregated children by placing them in separate classes within a school.

As a reporter, I visited many schools that had “triple segregation.” In Texas, bilingual education is required for ELLs when there is a large enough population and by nature of the program these children are placed in separate classes. Do bilingual programs inherently segregate? Are there benefits at all to this, however? The study acknowledges that this question has come up in debates over the instructional program.

“As the first-generation cases were resolved, the friction between bilingual education and desegregation became more apparent, as courts and districts sought to balance the need, on the one hand, to offer linguistically appropriate instruction for subgroups of students who do not yet speak English, and the danger, on the other hand, that such practices could result in racial and linguistic isolation of those students,” the study says.

Lastly, segregation has increased as overall districts and communities have become residentially segregated. Much of the residential segregation growth is happening in the suburbs.

This study is fascinating because it goes a step beyond racial segregation and examines a new type of segregation that has arisen based on linguistic isolation. It’s conversation worth having. It also raises the question, how does attending a segregated school impact how children learn English? And in a majority minority state such as Texas, are these trends just part of the demographic shift?

Related Links:

– “Study Shows Texas Segregated By Language,” Associated Press/Fox News Latino.

– “Study Shows Triple Segregation Persists in Texas Schools,” News Release, The University of Texas at Austin College of Education.

– “Nearly 50 Years Post-Jim Crow: Persisting and Expansive School Segregation for African American, Latina/o, and ELL Students in Texas.”

– “Cloaking Inequality” Blog (By Julian Vasquez Heilig)

Librarians Create Bilingual Reading List

In the Dallas school district, a group of librarians meets every year to create a special reading list for Hispanic children. The librarians strive to identify 20 of the best bilingual books for Spanish-speaking elementary school children.

The librarians call themselves the luminarias (lights used to guide the way), because of how they view their role as shepherding young readers. In Dallas ISD, this is especially critical since almost 70 percent of the district’s students are Latino, and nearly 40 percent are classified limited English proficient.

Reporter Stella M. Chavez of KERA radio reported on the group, and observed as children flipped through some of the books on the list at a local library. There is more than just an educational value to the list.

“They also love to see characters that are Hispanic and that’s starting to be more and more predominant but it’s far from where it needs to be,” Dallas elementary school librarian Maryam Mathis told KERA.

The books include El Fandango de Lola, about a Spanish girl who learns how to dance the fandango. The book La Hermosa Señora  is about the legend of Our Lady of Guadalupe. And Cuento de Noche is a bedtime story.

Have you seen efforts to compile similar reading lists?  

Related Links:

– “Librarians In Search of Books for Latino Kids,” KERA (NPR). 

– Library Programs, Dallas ISD (Scroll down for Luminarias Reading List)

– “For Young Latino Readers, an Image is Missing,” The New York Times.

Latinas 4 Latino Literature.

Iowa School District Struggles With Teacher Diversity

As the Latino population boomed beyond major urban centers and border states, school systems  have struggled to keep up with their rapidly changing demographics — even in unexpected places such as Iowa.

The Sioux City Journal reports that in the Sioux City, Iowa, school system about 29 percent of students are Hispanic while only 1 percent of teachers are Hispanic. That gives students few adult role models of their own background to look up to. Similarly, 96 percent of all of the district’s teachers are white while only 56 percent of the students are white.

Those are not statistics that the district’s leadership is happy about, but keeping pace can be difficult when the diversity of the young population has grown so rapidly. Only about 2.2 percent of all of Iowa teachers were minorities in 2011-12. According to the 2010 Census, about 16.4 percent of Sioux City residents were Hispanic while only five percent of all Iowa residents were Hispanic.

“It’s not that we have a diverse candidate pool, and we are only hiring Caucasians,” Superintendent Paul Gausman told the newspaper. “Our candidate pool does not have the diversity we would like to make choices.”

The school district is hoping to build a grow-your-own pipeline by creating an education career cluster that will eventually result in minority graduates of the district who one day return to teach. I’m curious if they also will try tactics such as recruiting teachers from more diverse states, such as Texas or California.

In another reflection of the district’s growing diversity, the newspaper reported that the school board recently decided to prioritize lobbying efforts in the Iowa Legislature regarding English Language Learners.  In particular, they’d like better funding for instructional programs for ELLs.

According to the article, the district has 2,635 ELLs, making up 18.5 percent of its enrollment. To further illustrate the rapid change, the district had only 213 ELLs in 1988-89.

Related Links:

– “Sioux City Schools Looking for more Diversity in Teaching Ranks,” Sioux City Journal.

– “Sioux City Schools Adds Legislative Focus on Non-English Speaking Students,” Sioux City Journal. 

Study Charts Growth of Limited English Proficient Population in U.S.

Children made up a “relatively small share” of the 25.3 million foreign and U.S.-born people with limited English proficiency residing within the United States in 2011, according to a new study by the Migration Policy Institute.

The study charts the tremendous growth of the population, which is about 63 percent Latino. About 9 percent of the LEP population, or 2.3 million children, fell between the ages 5 to 15 category. This corresponds with about 16 percent of the English-dominant population falling within the same age bracket.

As study after study has found, most English Language Learners in American schools are U.S. citizens. About 74 percent of LEP children ages 5 to 17 were born in the United States.

LEP individuals also made up about 9 percent of the population ages five and older in 2011, having grown by 81 percent since 1990. They made up about half of the total immigrant population in the U.S. About one out of every five people in California were LEP, with the next largest population in Texas (both states also have public school populations that are majority-Latino).

The data may be more instructive on immigrant parents. About 10.9 million children ages 5 to 17 had at least one parent who was LEP.

Most of the male LEP population was found to work in fields such as construction and transportation, while working women worked in service and personal care jobs. Indeed, LEP adults were less likely to have college degrees and more likely to live in poverty.

Although the data does not solely focus on children, it provides some good context for articles focusing on the demographics of the LEP population.

Related Links:

– “English-Learner Population in U.S. Rises, Report Finds,” Learning the Language Blog.

– “Limited English Proficient Population of the United States,” Migration Policy Institute.