Teach the ‘English Learners’ well

Forty to 60 percent of students who start California schools as “English Learners” never reach full English proficiency; many won’t graduate from high school.

My article, How Good is Good Enough? Moving California’s English Learners to English Proficiency (pdf) is up on the Lexington Institute web site.

California schools lose funding when students are reclassified as “fluent English proficient,” an obviously perverse incentive. Many set high standards for reclassification: ELs have to do as well or better than the average native English speaker to qualify as proficient.

But the larger issue is that many ELs go to schools that don’t do a very good job teaching reading and writing to anyone. They’re not reclassified as proficient because they score below-average in English Language Arts on the state exam, even though they may speak “playground English” as their preferred language. ELs become proficient in English more quickly if they attend schools that focus on building the reading and writing skills of all students.

This isn’t really about teaching in English (more than 90 percent of ELs are in mainstream English classes) or teaching in Spanish. It’s about teaching well.

About Joanne


  1. Cardinal Fang says:

    Skimming Joanne’s article, it looks to me like bilingual instruction, which has caused so much controversy, is a red herring. In bad schools, students don’t learn. In good schools, where students are expected to learn and where good teachers teach, students do learn, whether they’re taught in English or another language.

  2. That may be true. But it’s essential for kids who hope to do well here to learn English. And if they don’t have exposure to it at home, they must get it in school.

    Bilingual education in NY has largely degenerated to monolingual instruction in L1, often taught by teachers whose English is questionable. In our district, I enrolled my daughter in a “dual language” program, so named to distinguish it from the largely discredited “bilingual” programs.

    What is it? Half L1, and half L2, exactly what a real bilingual program would be. But few people expect that.

    My niece came from Colombia at 5. NYC put her in a bilingual class. I watched her learn English on the playground, which she wasn’t doing in school, and went with her mom to have her transferred to an ESL class, with other English learners, all of whom had to use English exclusively in class.

    It’s preposterous and counter-productive to put kids that age in so-called bilingual classes.

  3. Cardinal Fang says:

    That demonstrates what I was saying. Bad programs are bad and students don’t learn, and good programs are good and students do learn.

    There are a lot of bad schools in New York City, not just the bad biligual schools.

  4. Good article. It highlights several important issues.

    Another problem with reclassification is that CELDT is measured or tested by grade level ranges (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12). When students move from one range to the next (for example from grade 2 to grade 3), they have an entirely different set of criteria to pass. Several criteria are based on standards established for the higher grade levels in that range. This means a third grader who may have scored at the early advanced level on the 2nd-grade CELDT test will be tested in third grade on 4th and 5th grade standards. Needless to say it is doubtful the same student who previously scored early advanced at the end of 2nd grade will do so at the end of 3rd grade.