New York

Debating bilingual education, English immersion, and the election

At the New York Times blog Campaign Stops this week, two education scholars are debating the best policies for English Language Learners.

Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at UC Berkeley, argues that research backs up bilingual programs, which provide instruction in both English and the child’s native language:

Even a Bush administration review of controlled classroom experiments — seeking to identify what works in language teaching — found stronger achievement gains for students enrolled in quality bilingual programs, compared with English-immersion classrooms. Yet a skilled bilingual teacher is crucial, one who understands the knowledge and social norms that children acquire at home, and how to build from the first language to advance rich oral language and then written literacy. It’s a no-brainer for students attending schools in Europe and East Asia.

Fuller notes that Barack Obama favors transitional bilingual programs, which aim to move children to English-only instruction as quickly as possible, but provide support in the native language along the way. This is different from dual language programs, which promote written and oral fluency in both languages. Of course, as commenters at the Campaign Stops blog point out, the quality and language background of the teacher matters immensely if either type of bilingual program is to work, and in schools with a wide range of native languages spoken, bilingual instruction may not be realistic.

Fuller adds that other Obama proposals, like quality preschool programs and recruitment of excellent teachers, can also help close the achievement gap for these students. He emphasizes the importance of education for Hispanic voters in a number of swing states, and writes that John McCain has had “little to say to Hispanic parents” about education.

In response, Lance T. Izumi, senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, uses Sixth Street Prep, a high-achieving southern California charter school, as anecdotal evidence that English immersion is better for students:

Sixth Street emphasizes review and practice, constant assessment of skills and a no-excuses attitude. Furthermore, and here’s where Mr. Obama should take note, according to Linda Mikels, Sixth Street’s principal, the school’s instructional approach for English learners is “full immersion.” English immersion emphasizes the near-exclusive use of English in content instruction. … “It’s working,” she observed, “it’s working for us.”

Izumi accuses Obama of trivializing the issue when he said in a July public appearance, “You need to make sure your child can speak Spanish.” Here’s Obama’s full statement, and Salon provides even more context:

Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But understand this. Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English — they’ll learn English — you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about, how can your child become bilingual? We should have every child speaking more than one language.

Will they learn English? Research by the Pew Hispanic Center research suggests they will. A 2007 article reported that 88% of adult children of Hispanic immigrants speak English fluently, and the number rises to 94% in the third generation. Only 23% of first-generation Hispanic immigrants speak English fluently, but those who arrived as children (only about 4% of new arrivals, according to a different Pew report) are more likely to achieve fluency, according to the study. So, while there is clearly much more work to be done — educators are not worried only about English fluency, but also mastery of grade-level content knowledge, high school graduation, and access to college education — this calls into question the ubiquitous anecdotes about families where English is never learned.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.