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.