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.

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.

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.

Nevada Funding Boost for ELLs Stirs Controversy

A $50 million boost in education funding may seem like good cause for celebration. But in Nevada, the reaction to the news has not been uniformly positive.

That’s because some taxpayers are miffed that only English Language Learners are the beneficiaries. The Las Vegas Sun describes how some critics believe the influx of funding “smacks of special treatment and seems like an unjust, unfair burden on taxpayers who must subsidize the education of a select group of outsiders.”

The word that jumps out to me most from that excerpt is outsiders. Unfortunately, when resources are tight, an “us-versus-them” conflict can surface.

The general public often views ELLs as immigrants — and they often assume ELLs are undocumented immigrants.

“How can I justify requesting millions of dollars for foreign kids when we can’t even help our own kids here in our own state?” one caller to a Las Vegas radio station asked, according to the article.

But the facts don’t bear that out. In Clark County Schools (which encompass Las Vegas), about 80 percent of ELLs are from the United States.

The funding situation was so dire that at one point the ACLU of Nevada, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and Hispanics in Politics discussed a possible lawsuit against the state over the lack of adequate funding for ELLs.

A recent study by the UNLV Lincy Institute found that Clark County schools only provided $119 in funding per ELL students, compared with $4,677 in Miami-Dade Schools in Florida. About 94,771 Clark County students are ELLs.

It’s unclear how much $50 million will accomplish in terms of narrowing such a large gap.

According to the Sun, the influx of funding for ELLs will pay for items including pre-K and kindergarten classes, summer instruction, reading development, and new technology.

Related Links:

– “Funding boost for English-language learners prompts some backlash,” Las Vegas Sun.

– “Lawsuit Threatened Over Funding for ELLs in Nevada,” Latino Ed Beat.

– “Nevada’s English Language Learner Population: A Review of Enrollment, Outcomes and Opportunities,” The UNLV Lincy Institute.

– Clark County School District

Conn. District Replaces Bilingual Classes With English-Dominant Instruction

In New Britain, Connecticut, a new school superintendent has pushed for a dramatic and controversial shift in how to instruct English Language Learners.

Superintendent Kelt Cooper is doing away with bilingual education and phasing in mostly English classes that with an intensive focus on grammar, a recent story on PBS News Hour reported. He compares the approach to teaching English as a foreign language.

Cooper was unhappy with how ELLs in the district were performing on standardized tests.

Prior to the shift, DiLoreto Magnet Elementary School used dual-language instruction. But the school was faltering. As PBS notes, about 85 percent of ELLs were failing the state’s reading exam.

“When it comes to English-language learners, I make it very clear — our job and our objective is to get them to acquire English as rapidly as possible, so they can be in the mainstream,” Cooper told PBS.

Critics of the program are concerned about the message it sends to weaken the bilingual program. School board member Aram Ayalon, an education professor, believes that the dual-language program could have worked if it had been better carried out correctly.

“A basic truth in teaching is you start with what your students know, which may be Spanish, German, Polish, and you build on that,” he told PBS.

Cooper, the superintendent, previously led the school district in Del Rio, Texas, along the U.S.-Mexico border. He stirred up controversy in that district. According to media reports, he cracked down on students who lived in Mexico but attended Del Rio schools by posting staff members at the Mexican border to pull aside students crossing over.

“Anti-immigration groups heralded Cooper as a hero while civil rights advocates questioned whether he approach was constitutional — or effective, since so many of the targeted youngsters proved they were legally allowed to attend Del Rio Schools,” the Hartford Courant reported.

PBS points out that Cooper implemented an English-dominant strategy in Del Rio, with mixed results — more students reached English proficiency, but ELLs performed poorly in math and science.

Watch the PBS News Hour video report on New Britain Schools here.

Related Links:

– “Language Wars: Should Spanish-Speaking Students Be Taught in English Only?” PBS News Hour.

– The Consolidated School District of New Britain, CT.

– “New Britain Schools Outline Plan to Improve English Skills,” Hartford Courant.

– “Texas school district turns away students from Mexico,” CNN.

Superintendent: ELLs Making Gains in LA Schools

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy sent a memo to the district’s board of trustees recently outlining the academic gains by English Language Learners within recent years.

The memo to the district’s board was dated May 31, and was entitled, “Next Three Years: Policy and Investment.” The school district enrolls the largest number of ELLs in the nation, according to the memo. It began redesigning its program for ELLs in 2010.

He wrote that “far fewer” elementary school ELLs are testing at the “Below Basic” and “Far Below Basic” English proficiency levels. The percentage of students testing at those low proficiency levels dropped from 37 percent to 26 percent. At the secondary level, there was an 8 percent drop in students scoring at the lower levels.

California has struggled with long term English Language Learners who have been in the school system for six years or more, but still have not become English proficient. The district’s new master plan for addressing ELLs takes this into account. Two courses have been created at the middle and high school levels addressing the student population. Students receive targeted help with improving their reading and language skills, guided by testing data.

As part of the plan, 750 special education teachers were trained on strategies to use with ELLs with special needs.

The Learning the Language blog reported that Los Angeles revamped its program after an enforcement action by the U.S. Department of Education. California is also now beginning to track data on long term ELL students.

Related Links:

– Memo from John Deasy re ELLs.

– “L.A. Unified Improves English-Learner Outcomes, Superintendent Says,” Learning the Language Blog, Education Week.

– “Memo touts progress on safety, suspensions, and English Learners,” LA School Report.

– “California Eyes Tracking Long-Term English Language Learners,” Latino Ed Beat.

Researchers Examine Dual Language Early Ed Learners

Researchers from the Center for Early Care and Early Education Research – Dual Language Learners at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, recently reviewed many studies to drawn conclusions about English language learners. The center’s research is funded in part by the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Researchers examined children ages zero to five who are learning two languages.

They found that dual language learners are not hurt by being exposed to two languages as they develop. However, their ability in each of the languages will vary based on when they were exposed to each and how often they are able to use the language.

Additionally, the dual language learners are behind other children in phonological skills as infants, but progress during preschool, and then catch up to other children.

Researchers also noted that while the bilingual childrens’ vocabulary in each separate language was smaller than that of children who spoke only one language, when the vocabularies of both languages are combined they become equal. Evidence also suggested that the dual language children began preschool with fewer literacy skills in English than the monolingual children.

Further research has shown that children who learn literacy at home in their first language are more successful in acquiring a second language. They also concluded that successful children are taught by teachers proficient in the child’s first language.

“Problems with DLLs’ development arise when they are not provided sufficient language learning opportunities and support for both languages,” the study says. “When [early childhood education] classrooms place emphasis solely on English development, DLLs’ development in their first language can decline and their abilities in English continue to fall behind those of their English speaking grade level peers.”

Researchers also concluded that bilingual children have many strengths as well, including an ability to focus more while working on nonverbal tasks such as math problems. They also found that bilingual children gain problem solving and memory skills because they must face the challenge of navigating between two languages.

Related Links:

– “Dual Language in Early Education Best for Youngest ELLs, Report Says,” Learning the Language Blog. Education Week.

– “Dual Language Learners: Research Informing Policy” Report, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

– Center for Early Care and Education Research – Dual Language Learners

Report Alleges Discrimination Against ELLs in Louisiana

The Southern Poverty Law Center broadened its federal complaint against the Jefferson Parish Public School System in Louisiana regarding the district’s treatment of Latino immigrant families this week.

The SPLC alleges that the school district is inadequately serving its students who are English Language Learners. The newest charges come after the organization alleged in a complaint last August that Spanish-speaking Hispanic parents were not being provided proper translation services.

The Times-Picayune reports the SPLC alleges that the school system has only 81 ESL-certified teachers serving 3,300 ELLs. The complaint also says that ELL students are exited from ESL services based on their speaking ability and not their writing and reading skills–setting them up for failure in mainstream classes.

In addition, the report is critical of the district clustering ESL educators at certain schools.

“Because of the improper allocation of resources, the ESL program in JPPSS is understaffed,” the report states. “There are not enough ESL-certified teachers to properly carry out the ESL curriculum and effectively teach ELL students English so that they can succeed in school.”

The complaint also details the experiences of specific students: a high school sophomore who reported that teachers felt bilingual paraprofessionals were a distraction to their teaching, so asked them not to help students until they were done teaching. Other students felt they struggled in math without language assistance.

The SPLC has repeatedly filed complaints against the school system with the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education, having previously raised concerns about the district’s treatment of black students.

The newspaper reported that the district declined to comment on the newest complaint.

I wonder how common similar challenges are across the country–particularly in areas of the South that have not traditionally had substantial Latino, and immigrant, populations.

Related Links:

– “Report alleges Jefferson Parish schools discrimination against ESL students,” The Times-Picayune.

– SPLC new complaint text

– Southern Poverty Law Center Immigrant Justice

– “SPLC Files Civil Rights Complaint Against Louisiana District,” Latino Ed Beat.