Judge orders Texas to do better — but how?

Texas’ schools aren’t educating middle and high school students who lack English proficiency, according to U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice. He ordered the state to change the current secondary-school program. Currently, schools offer bilingual classes through sixth grade; students who remain English Learners and new immigrants then take classes in English as a Second Language. Typically, they perform much worse than students who are fluent in English.

“The failure of secondary (limited English proficient) students under every metric clearly and convincingly demonstrates student failure, and accordingly, the failure of the (English as a Second Language) secondary program in Texas,” Justice wrote in the opinion, which reversed his 2007 ruling in the case.

Texas is supposed to come up with a better program. Some think the judge wants bilingual (or all-Spanish) classes offered in middle and high school.

New immigrants who arrive as teenagers with no English are going to struggle, no matter how they’re taught. Full immersion in English might overwhelm them; Spanish-language classes would delay their transition to English.

However, many English Learners in secondary school aren’t newcomers. In California — and I’m sure in Texas — many English Learners who’ve attended U.S. schools since kindergarten or first grade never read or write well in English. I wrote about this here and here (scroll down).

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  1. Mrs. Davis says:

    Perhaps the judge should take over a classroom. The continual interference of the judicial branch in education has brought glory to neither. Just another reason to get rid of public schools. And any right to an education lingering in state constitutions.

  2. Margo/Mom says:

    I hope that others click on the links that you provided to your earlier articles. There are–as you point out, schools who are doing a good job of teaching young English learners. Using, well, good teaching practice. And they are, I presume, public school. The difficulty, as I understand it, is not so much how to teach effectively. We know how. It is how to make more of our schools into places with the pieces that make this possible: experienced teachers, trained ESL teachers, bilingual aides–and good leadership in developing the cooperative and collaborative atmosphere to enable these good and talented people in applying sound curriculum and using data to adjust their methods.

  3. Catch Thirty-Three says:

    Here’s an idea: total immersion, sink or swim. (Hey, it worked for my mother. Even IF my grandmother were to ask for a bilingual program for her, the educators of the time would have asked her “A what? For what?”)

  4. Catch Thirty-Three – I agree with you but there is a problem, I wouldn’t be surprised if the schools in TX, AZ, southern CA, have populations that are predominately Hispanic and the number of well spoken English is small and it won’t work without the ratio being higher.

  5. speedwell says:

    Oh, for crying out loud. My partner and I were going to dinner yesterday, and a story about this was on the car radio. We talked about my brother’s wife, whose family immigrated from Mexico when she was a toddler, whose parents don’t speak English, and who refuses to allow Spanish to be spoken at home with the kids unless her mother is in the house. For clarity’s sake: She is from Mexico, she has two kids in public school in a city (San Antonio) where Hispanics are in the majority, and she still does not think Spanish-language classes in school are appropriate.

    She is liker my father, an immigrant from Hungary, who prided himself on his English fluency and refused to teach his children Hungarian. He would have derided (with fine haughty Hungarian sarcasm) any idiotic notion that my brother and I needed to be taught in Hungarian because of our ethnicity. My sister-in-law feels the same way about classes taught in Spanish.

    As we were seated at our table in one of Houston’s many Vietnamese restaurants, where we are used to being the only Western faces in the enormous, crowded space, we told our waitress we were interested in learning whether she and her friends thought they should have classes taught in Vietnamese in the neighborhood school. She laughed out loud and shook her head no. Although her own English skills were barely passable, she said with obvious pride her kids were smart and could speak English just as well as anyone else.

  6. In your articles you bring up the importance of not only good teaching but curriculum. Yes, curriculum! In far too many schools there is no semblance of an ESL curriculum. Teachers are told to use ESL “strategies,” but there is no coherent plan, and no sense of what the students need to know.

    The proficiency tests, by contrast, do measure the students’ mastery of a certain body of knowledge. They expect the students to know certain words, written and spoken; to comprehend complex announcements and pick out relevant information; to recognize grammatical errors; and to write in coherent prose. In some ways the ESL tests are more demanding than the ELA tests; you must score quite high in order to be reclassified.

    Now, it’s not as though curricula have never existed. A colleague at a Brooklyn high school came upon a dusty ESL curriculum from the 1990s. It was comprehensive and well sequenced. It did not include literature, I don’t think; but a teacher could supplement it well.

    What happened to that curriculum? The district abandoned it and replaced it with… nothing. It was as though it never had existed. I have no idea why. Perhaps they believed that teachers should “differentiate” and “teach to the needs of each child.” But this only works if you’re clear about what you’re teaching.

    ESL should be a course, not a service! It should have the same coherence, rigor, and honor as any language class. And students should be reclassified as soon as they are ready, even during the school year. It is a shame that students in NY must wait to take the test in April or May, and then wait until September for their results. There should be ways for students to apply for reclassification at several points during the year. Students, ELL or otherwise, should be given the most challenging work they can handle. No one should be “stuck” in ESL or anything else.

  7. Mrs. Davis says:

    speedwell, thanks for your stories about Americans.

  8. Margo/Mom says:

    I have recently been reading about Finland. I know many folks don’t think we have much to learn from them: they are too small, too smart, too homogeneous. But despite having percentages of immigrants much smaller than ours, their concern for being prepared to teach immigrants is impressive. In a country with three “native” languages (Finnish, Swedish and Sami), they are already situated to provide first language instruction in “mother tongue.” As immigrants with other language background come into the country they have a concern for continuing this template to include the “mother tongue” of various countries (Russian, Estonian, English), not so much as a means of support, but to enable a tie to culture. A second “national” language is expected of all students beginning in early elementary–with a third language elective added at the secondary level.

    In short, their view that multi-lingual ability is an expectation of all students (not a handicapping condition) has provided them with a template for language acquisition that is supportive not only in responding to their own multi-lingual population, but others as the landscape changes.

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    I worked with exchange students (AFS) for over twenty years.
    Total immersion works, works well, works fast.
    However, it does not employ huge numbers of ESL apparatchiks, does not supply the hospitality industry with English-illiterate workers who have no possibility of moving up in the world and so can be paid little and mistreated, and does not satisfy the balkanization-is-best folks.