Thousands Of Students In Texas Classified "Limited English Learners"

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Jul 13 12:08:11 UTC 2008

Thousands Of Students In Texas Classified "Limited English

Last month, the Dallas Morning News published a series about illegal
immigrant Hispanic students at a Dallas high school. The stories are largely
about the students' struggles to learn English, pass their classes and stay
in school. Reporters Macarena Hernández and Gary Jacobson also provide an
intimate and sympathetic view of the ups and downs students go through
adjusting to new friends, parents they hadn't seen in a long time, and in
some cases siblings they'd never met.

The stories make a compelling read, but they glossed over the more important
story: thousands of students in the state of Texas who are classified as
limited English speakers were born in the U.S. The majority of them are
Hispanic children and low-income. According to state education data cited in
the series, the number of students in Texas that were classified as limited
English learners more than doubled to more than 770,000 between 1991 and
2008--and "the overwhelming majority are U.S.-born children of immigrants in
elementary school."

In addition, an analysis of state data by the Morning News showed that about
60 percent of Texas high school students who reportedly have limited
proficiency in English "have been in U.S. schools five years or more." In
others words, they have been educated in English in U.S. public schools and
they still aren't fully literate in the language at their grade level. There
isn't a magic bullet that's going to fix this problem, and it's going to
take more than money to do it. This is not a task for the federal
government, either. This is something that needs to be tackled at the local
level, by state lawmakers, school district officials, teachers and parents.

For starters, state legislators and school district officials are going to
have to take a hard look at the way bilingual education programs are being
run. It's not just going to be about hiring better teachers, but about
taking children who were born and reared in the U.S. out of those classes.
In Texas, bilingual classes are offered in grade school and are aimed to
improve English-language skills of children whose native language is
Spanish. In the early grades, students receive much of their instruction in
Spanish, and then get incremental doses of English as they transition to
higher grades. The philosophy behind this teaching strategy: by shoring up
their Spanish language skills first, the children are better equipped to
pick up English than they would in an English-only class. The reality is
that these kids--many if not most of who were born here--are short-changed:
they learn neither language properly.

Why are these kids in these classes? They watch "Dora the Explorer" and
"That's so Raven." They know about Winnie the Pooh and Elmo. They're fans of
"Hannah Montana." They may speak Spanish at home, but they're steeped in
English-language pop culture. What they need is to be fully immersed in the
language at school, not segregated. Another thing school districts could do
better is step-up their efforts to get parents more involved in their
children's education. Though the perception is that Hispanics don't value
education, many of those parents don't know how to speak English, don't know
their way around the American public school culture and may feel intimidated
by the system. If they are here illegally, they may fear even participating
in school activities could risk deportation.

Still, the burden lies mostly and ultimately on the parents. More of them
need to step up to the plate to help these kids succeed. For low-income
Hispanic families, that's going to take a drastic change in the way they
value education against their immediate financial needs. In many families,
teenagers quit school to work to help support their families here and in
their parents' home countries. This may help families in the short term, but
not long term. The Morning News series cited the following statistics that
illustrate the economic impact of high school dropouts:

According to the Alliance of Excellent Education, a public policy group
based in Washington, D.C., "the 1.2 million dropouts from the Class of 2007,
over their lifetimes, will cost the U.S. nearly a third of a trillion
dollars in foregone wages, taxes and productivity."  The problem has even
broader implications. Students here aren't competing with fellow classmates
for educational opportunities and jobs anymore, but also with children in
China, Europe and Latin America that may have a better grasp of the
language. It behooves parents, teachers and legislators to help children
master the English language beginning at an early age. The economic future
of those children, and that of their cities, states and that of the country,
are intricately tied to the quality of their childhood education

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