New York: The Best Ways to Teach Young Newcomers

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Mar 11 16:47:05 UTC 2009

The Best Ways to Teach Young Newcomers
By The Editors

Welcome to a national conversation about immigration. Starting today,
readers and specialists are invited to discuss themes that will be
explored each Sunday in a series of articles that will appear online
and in the newspaper in the coming months.

The first article, to be published this weekend, will report on a
Virginia school district that segregates students who are the children
of immigrants, and who don’t speak English well, to make it easier to
give them intensive support. Is that a good idea?

Here in Room for Debate, experts in the education of children learning
English are already discussing strategies that schools around the
country are adopting to help these students meet rising academic
standards. In addition, readers can explore two interactive features.
The first, a searchable database, includes the history of ethnic
diversity in every school district in the country. The second, an
interactive map, displays census data that show where different
immigrant groups have settled in the United States over the last

Please join the conversation in the comment section of this blog. When
the article on schools appears, the experts will be invited to return
to the theme, focusing on the Virginia district’s approach. Readers
are invited to do the same.

Future articles and discussions will focus on how the latest wave of
immigrants is affecting other American institutions.

Robert Linquanti, researcher at WestEd
Roger Prosise, superintendent of schools
Marcelo Suárez-Orozco and Carola Suárez-Orozco, N.Y.U.
Linda Mikels, elementary school principal
Ricardo Leblanc-Esparza, high school principal
Linda Chavez, author of “Out of the Barrio”
Delia Pompa, National Council of La Raza


No Child Left Behind: Pros and Cons

Robert Linquanti is project director at WestEd, a regional educational
research agency based in San Francisco. (The views expressed here are
his own, and not necessarily those of his agency or its funders.)

Educators are using many different strategies to help students who
arrive at school knowing little or no English. These five million
“English-language learners” are the fastest-growing population in our
public schools, and more than half of them are actually U.S.-born, the
children of immigrants.

The Redesignation Dilemma: Challenges and Choices in Fostering
Meaningful Accountability for English Learners
English Language Proficiency Assessment in the Nation: Current Status
and Future Practice

Schools in various states are setting language and academic goals,
developing students’ academic language skills, using “scaffolded”
instruction so students at different language levels are actively
engaged in academic work and building on students’ first-language
abilities, to name a few approaches.

But regardless of the strategy, they are all happening within the
context of the federal No Child Left Behind law (plus state laws that
may dictate instructional practices).

The federal law has generated some benefits for English learners by
shining a spotlight on these students, and making their performance
count. Most states now have standards for children learning English as
a second language, annual assessments based on those standards and
targets to ensure more students are progressing and reaching English
language proficiency over time. That’s good news.

But the law is seriously flawed in not properly valuing English
learners’ academic progress when calculating a school’s performance
over time. Worse, the law requires that by 2014 all of these students
should walk through the school door meeting state academic standards,
regardless of their English proficiency or how long they’ve been in

Such provisions have made it harder for many teachers and principals
to carry out effective practices for their schools and undermined the
law’s credibility and support. Also, because of gross underfunding,
the No Child Left Behind law hasn’t provided much needed training and
support to help teachers deliver high-quality instruction to these

The law is flawed but it does shine a spotlight on English learners
and makes their performance count.
There has been a long and acrimonious debate on the use of bilingual
instruction to educate these students since it links to such
lightning-rod issues as immigration policy, national identity and
multiculturalism. That aside, the most rigorous research demonstrates
that instructing these students bilingually, particularly in the
earlier grades, is modestly beneficial in their acquiring literacy in
English (about as much an effect as phonics instruction — with the
added cognitive and academic benefits of bilingualism and biliteracy).

It’s a strategy that educators should be free to employ when there is
a sufficient minority-language group, demonstrated teacher expertise
and materials to deliver quality bilingual instruction and sustained
community support for its goals. Yet several states have enacted laws
or carried out the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law in
ways that discourage or curtail the use of bilingual instructional
methods. That lack of flexibility hinders, rather than helps, our
immigrant students’ success.


For Bilingual Education, You Need Bilingual Teachers
Roger Prosise is superintendent of the Diamond Lake School District in
suburban Chicago.

In the fall of 2007, Diamond Lake School District 76 received three
letters from the Illinois State Board of Education.

The first two letters congratulated the schools for excellent results
on state tests over a three-year period. English-language learners
were performing exceptionally well.

The third letter was a notification that the state would no longer
give the district the grant ($170,000) for English-language learners
because the district was out of compliance with the state’s mandated
bilingual education policy.

Success With English Learners
Bilingual Progress Comes With a Price
English-Language Learners
Lexington Institute

I’m in my 11th year as the superintendent of the district, which has
1,300 elementary school students. Half of them are Latino, and 40
percent are low-income. During my first five years we tried bilingual
education. During this time, the bilingual teachers (who were and are
Latina) came to me and said that the bilingual program wasn’t working
in our district. Their observations were backed up by the results on
standardized assessments. The teachers were not satisfied with student
progress and were concerned that there weren’t enough quality
bilingual teachers to staff the program in later grades.

The bilingual program didn’t work in my district because of the
shortage of bilingual education teachers, who, in addition to being
fluent in both languages, must get a bilingual endorsement from the

The state board of education praised our test results, but found us
out of compliance with bilingual education mandates.
District 76 even went to Spain to recruit bilingual teachers. This too
didn’t work. (Any first year teacher needs a lot of help to succeed,
and the teachers from Spain, while bilingual, also needed a great
amount of support to adjust to American schools and culture.) The
bilingual programs were not staffed at the same high standard as the
regular English-speaking classroom.

I met with the bilingual teachers and we changed the program to meet
the needs of English language learners in my district. We decided to
teach in English and provide support in Spanish — an alternative
research-based program called “sheltered English.”

The teachers planned the lesson in English, taught it in English. When
the teacher saw that she needed to talk in Spanish, she did. The
amount of talking and teaching in Spanish was greater in the first 2
or 3 weeks, then tapered off. Children struggling in reading were
given an additional 30 minutes daily of reading instruction in English
by a reading teacher. The change worked. The children in our program
are successful. In addition to greatly improved test scores, the
district received a 95 percent approval rating from parents in an
anonymous parent survey, conducted in English and Spanish.

I am not saying bilingual education doesn’t work. There are plenty of
examples of bilingual education that have been successful. I am simply
advocating for choice. Bilingual education should be optional, not
mandatory. The local district should decide.

Fortunately, through a wide network of supporters, Diamond Lake School
District 76 prevailed and the district received its grant for
English-language learners from the state of Illinois.


Teach in Two Languages
Marcelo Suárez-Orozco and Carola Suárez-Orozco are the co-directors of
Immigration Studies at New York University and the co-authors of
“Children of Immigration” and “Learning A New Land: Immigrant Students
in American Society.”

Immigrant children are the fastest-growing sector of the student
population — 22 percent and climbing. Unfortunately, American schools
are unprepared to meet the historic challenge of educating these
children. Federal policies over the last decade have made the task
even more problematic.

Explaining English Language Proficiency Among Adolescent Immigrant Students
Immigrant Youth Adapt to Change
Academic Engagement and Achievement Among Newcomer Immigrant Youth

Fully developing academic English skills (not just colloquial) takes
longer (five to seven years under optimal conditions) than impatient
policy makers allow. Students with limited literacy in their native
language need even longer to solidify their academic skills in a new
language. As a result, simply throwing an English-language learner
into a full immersion program doesn’t work. A better bet is providing
high-quality intensive English lessons while teaching math, science
and social studies in the students’ native tongues, thus helping
newcomers work at grade level while they master the new language.

The best results come from dual-immersion classes, in which students
learn half the time in English and half in their native language,
usually Spanish, with half the class being native English speakers and
the others native Spanish speakers. Strong programs also provide
language tutoring, homework help and writing assistance as newcomers
move into mainstream classes.

The best way for English-language learners to succeed — and not become
a burden on society — is to place them in programs that identify their
incoming literacy and academic skills and provide them with consistent
English instruction and annual assessments to measure progress and
make adjustments, if necessary. The key to success with a program like
this is transitional academic support, including tutoring, ongoing
language instruction, homework help and writing assistance. The
Internationals Network for Public Schools in New York are an excellent
example of what can be done to engage new arrivals.

The current high-stakes testing accountability system creates
unintended consequences for immigrant English-language learners that
outweigh whatever benefits standardized tests may have.
The current high-stakes testing accountability system creates
unintended consequences for immigrant English-language learners that
outweigh whatever benefits standardized tests may have. Because too
many immigrant students attend segregated, impoverished schools and
typically change schools and programs often, their performance on
these tests is further compromised. Indeed, many of them are tested
well before they have adequately developed academic language skills.

What’s more, immigrant students from low-income families do not
typically have the academic supports at home that middle-class
students have: educated parents who can help them on their essays, a
computer with Internet access, a quiet place to do homework. A school
committed to seeing its English-language learners succeed should
provide after-school programs that offer homework help, language
tutoring and college counseling.

Here we have much to learn from our neighbors to the North. The
Toronto District School Board is doing marvelous work in providing
“wrap-around services” — including nutrition, homework, after-school
programs and family outreach to newly arrived immigrant students.

A century ago, uneducated immigrant children could start on the
factory floor and rise to the middle class, but that path for mobility
no longer exists. If we fail to teach today’s newcomers the skills
they need to prosper in a global economy, we condemn them to a life of
poverty and alienation from the mainstream society.


No, Teach in English
Linda Mikels is the principal of Sixth Street Prep School, a charter
elementary school in Victorville, Calif.

Although we have been confronted with the challenge of teaching
non-English speaking children since the early years of public
education, educators continue to debate both the pedagogy and the
system for educating them. We have seen the pendulum swing from
bilingual instruction, to full immersion, to dual immersion and
everything in between. States have also taken up the gauntlet,
defining what English-language development should look like and
certifying teachers to provide this instruction.

A classroom at Sixth Street Prep School.At Sixth Street Prep we have
demonstrated that English-language learners can achieve at proficient
levels within full-immersion model, or a classroom where only English
is spoken. Over the past eight years, our English-language learners
have improved on the state test in language arts, from 7 percent
proficiency to 62 percent proficiency, and in math, from 19 percent
proficiency to 88 percent proficiency.

By following the research of Larry Lezotte, author of “Learning for
All, Whatever it Takes,” Robert Marzano, author of “Classroom
Instruction that Works,” and others, our school has implemented
effective instruction practices and adopted a belief system that
should be a model for not just elementary education but for high
school as well. The secret lies in focusing on learning instead of
teaching. When a teacher is focused on teaching, you will hear, “I
taught it; they just didn’t learn it.” By contrast, a teacher who is
focused on the learning is constantly checking for understanding and
modifying their instruction to enable all students to learn.

I think what makes our school unique — but certainly one that others
could emulate — is that our teachers believe that all children can
learn and achieve high standards in spite of barriers like poverty,
language and ethnicity.

A student and teacher at the school.We also have a pedagogy that more
closely resembles coaching than it does lecturing. Instruction is rich
in academic English with extensive interaction among students and
among teachers and students. This coaching model provides constant
monitoring and timely feedback to students. It does not rely on
“pull-out programs” or “ability grouping” to meet student needs.
Rather, the teacher differentiates instruction in a way that ALL
students, including the non-English-speaking students, have the
opportunity to learn. The truth is that good instruction for an
English-language learner is good instruction for all students.

Within this model, struggling students are supported with one-on-one
coaching, peer tutoring and small group support right within the
classroom. While these students are being instructed at grade level,
the teacher provides the individual support that each student needs.

At Sixth Street we do not assign homework. Research shows that
homework does not increase student achievement at the elementary
level. Since many of our parents do not speak English and have had
only limited schooling, we believe that assigning homework is an issue
of equity. If students require additional practice to master a
standard, they should have the opportunity to practice it under the
watchful eye of the classroom coach who can provide feedback and
reteaching immediately when it is needed.

Assigning homework to students whose parents don’t speak English is unfair.
We believe strongly that all students should be taught the grade level
standards while they are learning English. In our current system of
accountability under No Child Left Behind, all students, including
English-language learners, must demonstrate proficiency in the state
standards. In California, these students must take the state
assessment within 12 months of beginning in the school system.
Moreover, these students cannot be reclassified until proficiency in
the state standards is demonstrated. When students are placed in
“pull-out programs” they are being denied the essential classroom
instruction in the standards that they require.

The same is true when they are grouped by ability for instruction. In
these settings, teachers focus on “gaps” in a student’s learning and
often neglect instruction in the essential standards. It is morally
wrong to deny any student instruction in the standards, especially
vocabulary, syntax, grammar and usage instruction.

As a nation, we have to stop wringing our hands in despair as if
non-English-language fluency equates to ignorance. The only ignorance
I see is on the part of those who behave as if non-English fluency is
a handicap. At our school, even students who arrive with no English
can achieve proficiency in math in a year and in language arts in two
years. And it all has to do with our belief system.

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