California: High demand smashes into low supply for ESL classes

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Aug 22 13:37:37 UTC 2007

High demand smashes into low supply for ESL classes

By Jennifer Torres
August 21, 2007
Record Staff Writer

Among the many arguments cast in the ongoing and contentious debate
over immigration is at least one on which most sides tend to agree:
that learning English is crucial to economic and social success in the
United States. Speaking and understanding English means better job
opportunities, better communication with doctors, better information
from teachers. California's public schools have taught adults English
for more than a century, and interest in the courses has been growing
in recent years. But, according to an analysis from the Public Policy
Institute of California, schools could find it increasingly difficult
to provide that service to all who need it as state funding for adult
classes in English as a second language lags demand.

In California, public adult schools are responsible for 75 percent of
adult ESL classes, which also are provided on a smaller scale through
libraries, community colleges and nonprofit organizations. Over the
past seven years, ESL students have consistently accounted for more
than 40 percent of adult school clients in the state. In the Stockton
Unified School District, they account for half.

The major state funding source for adult school ESL classes limits
their growth to 2.5 percent each year. But, the Public Policy
Institute argues, interest in ESL exceeds that limit in many
districts: "All adult schools in the Central Valley enrolled students
in excess of the 2.5 percent funding limit," it says. That means
schools must decide whether to turn interested students away or to
absorb the costs of extra bodies. At the Stockton Adult School last
week, Dave Lauter taught a class of 44 advanced-level students,
learning English as well as American culture and civics. Ideally,
classes would be smaller, Principal Carol Hirota said.

She said more students want to take the class than the state provides
money for, but she hasn't turned students away yet. Instead, she pays
teachers more to take on larger classes. That extra money must be
pulled from other areas of the school's budget, which means some
programs can't be expanded. Leopold Nchimba of the Democratic Republic
of the Congo has lived in the United States for seven years. "I read
correctly," Nchimba said of his English ability. "I understand a
little. I speak with difficulty."

His first language is French. "I am living in the United States," he
said. "I need the English language to communicate." While San Joaquin
County families represent more than 30 languages, the majority of ESL
students come from Spanish-speaking households. According to research
from the Pew Hispanic Center, a majority of Latinos - 57 percent -
believe immigrants need to speak English in order to be part of
American society. Ninety-two percent said English should be taught to
the children of immigrant families.

Isabel Barajas, a cashier, started studying English after her shaky
language ability kept her from professional advancement. "Twice I had
the opportunity to be a crew leader," she said. "I couldn't get the
promotion. My boss said, 'You're a very good employee, but you have to
learn more English.' " ESL classes are similarly popular throughout
San Joaquin County. Bill Dendle of Manteca Unified's Lindbergh Adult
School said adults learning English account for at least one-third of
the school's population.

"There's always more need than there are classes," he said. "I think
that's universal."
Walter Gouveia, principal of the Tracy Adult School, said he expects
that need will grow.
"They want to survive in a new culture, a new country," he said.

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