Low-income English Learners in Denver learn much faster if they attend low-poverty schools instead of high-poverty schools, according to a study of elementary reading and writing by the Piton Foundation and the University of Colorado. Why? The Rocky Mountain News offers one explanation:
A key difference between the schools is that students in poorer schools typically learn English with help in their native language, generally Spanish.
In wealthier schools, students learning English are typically immersed in English.
Researchers were looking for evidence that all low-income students learn more in low-poverty schools. They found significant gains — very significant — only for English Learners.
Between third and fifth grade, ELL students in high-poverty schools gained on average less than one point per year on their CSAP writing scores. Meanwhile, ELL students in the lowest poverty schools (30 percent or less free and reduced lunch) gained an average of 26 points per year.
Essentially, ELA students’ reading and writing skills barely improved from third to fifth grade, while English immersion students nearly caught up with their classmates. Researchers aren’t sure that teaching in Spanish is slowing students’ progress.
“I don’t want to say teaching kids in English is the only model,” (Alan) Gottlieb said. “Another possible answer is they have unqualified teachers in the ELA (English Language Acquisition) program teaching kids in Spanish and they’re not learning anything. The other possibility is that the curriculum is so watered down . . .
“DPS needs to take a hard look, at least, at what’s happening in the ELA program in elementary schools . . . because there’s something very wrong.”
A federal court order requires Denver Public Schools to offer an ELA program “where teachers use Spanish to transition students to English over three years,” if there are significant numbers of students who speak Spanish and aren’t fluent in English, reports the News.