‘Spanish Learners’ struggle in Mexico


Anthony David Martinez raises his hand in class at the Escuela 20 Noviembre school in Tijuana, Mexico. Photo: Sandy Huffaker/NPR

When Mexican immigrants return to their homeland, their U.S.-born children struggle in Mexican schools, reports Claudio Sanchez for NPR.

Most were labeled English Language Learners in U.S. schools because they don’t read or write proficiently in English. But they’re not literate in Spanish either.

In the last eight years, nearly 500,000 children — 90 percent American born — have returned to Mexico with their families, estimates UCLA’s Civil Rights Project. Some immigrants left because of the economic downturn. Others were deported.

Patricia Gandara, co-chair of the Civil Rights Project, thinks Mexican educators should learn from the U.S. experience with English-only and bilingual education.

In Mexican schools, the goal is to transition children as quickly as possible to Spanish fluency — because it’s the only language that matters. We’ve tried to estimate the percentage of classroom teachers in Mexico who speak English at a level that they can communicate with these [U.S.-born] kids, and found that fewer than 5 percent in public schools across [Mexico] can communicate with these children.

U.S. educators build on children’s “primary language,” says Gandara. She wants Mexican schools to assess U.S. returnees in their primary language, English.

In the U.S., these students were treated as though Spanish was their primary language.

The children of poorly educated parents often lack well-developed skills and vocabulary in any language; they’re also weak on general knowledge about the world. No es el lenguaje estúpido.  You can figure out what that means because you’re educated readers.

As schools gentrify, PTA politics get tricky

When schools gentrify, educated, affluent, white parents often take over parent groups, writes Casey Quinlan in The Atlantic. Less-educated, lower-income parents feel their voices aren’t heard and their children’s needs aren’t the top priority.

Lower-income parents may want more access to computers, while affluent parents worry their kids get too much screen time.

Powell Elementary School in Washington, D.C. has separate parent meetings in English and Spanish. Photo: Cliff Owens/AP

Powell Bilingual Elementary School in Washington, D.C. has separate parent meetings in English and Spanish. Photo: Cliff Owens/AP

Double-immersion bilingual programs are proving popular with educated, English-speaking parents, which creates more integrated schools.

Advantaged parents are great at fund-raising, which gives them clout with the principal, said Alexandra Freidus, a New York University graduate student who analyzed a changing Brooklyn school. As the school population became whiter and more affluent, resources shifted to improving the playground “rather than efforts to get classroom computers and support for the student prom.”

Think Progress looks at a bilingual Spanish-English school in Washington, D.C. that’s drawing more students with educated, English-speaking “high-powered” parents.

The parent community used to feel like a “family,” said Percia Williams, an active parent for eight years. Now, some Spanish-speaking parents feel excluded.

Ed Next’s top stories of 2015

Starting in pre–K, children at Hoover School talk, sing, chant, move, explore, experiment, and play in language-rich, text-rich, and information-rich environments. Children who aren't proficient in English can learn well in English or their native language -- if they're taught well.

Children at Hoover School in Redwood City, California talk, sing, chant, move, explore, experiment, and play in language-rich, text-rich, and information-rich environments. Good teaching is more important than the language of instruction.

Learning English, my story on how “accountability, Common Core and the college-for-all movement are transforming instruction” of students from immigrant families, ranks 10th in Ed Next’s list of the top 20 Education Next Articles of 2015.

That’s not bad considering it didn’t come out till late November.

Overall, readers went for stories on poverty and inequality, say editors. “Five of the articles in the top 20 are from a special issue . .  . on the 50th Anniversary of the Moynihan Report which examined the rise in the number of children growing up in single-parent families.”

Learning English — pronto

The fall issue of Education Next is out, including my article on what’s changed in how schools are educating students who aren’t proficient in English.

Pushed by No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) accountability measures and the college-for-all movement, educators nationwide have raised expectations for children from immigrant families.

More ELLs are learning in English, as old-style bilingual ed fades away. However, “dual immersion” bilingual programs are proving popular with educated, English-speaking parents.

There’s a greater sense of urgency about getting kids to proficiency in elementary school.

Learning English: Good teaching is #1

With a rising tide of immigrant and refugee students in U.S. schools, helping “English Language Learners” actually learn English — and master academic subjects — is more critical than ever. ELL education is moving beyond the bilingual vs. English debate, I write in Education Next.

I visited Hoover School in Redwood City (south of San Francisco), where 95 percent of students coem from low-income and working-class Latino families.

Ocean animals was the theme in pre-kindergarten classes at a California school in early May. Some pre-K teachers introduced “octopus” and “tentacle,” while others taught “pulpo” and “tentaculo.” In all the pre-K classes, children acted out vocabulary words with hand movements, sang songs, and played a guess-the-ocean creature game. Then they moved to tables, where some of them painted paper octopuses, while others gingerly smelled, touched, and then dangled little octopuses from a local fish market.

Starting in pre-K, Hoover students “talk, sing, chant, move, explore, experiment, and play in language-rich, text-rich, information-rich environments,” I write. “They dictate stories to volunteers, write letters, keep journals, and see their writing “published” in bound books.

“Pushed by No Child Left Behind’s accountability goals and pulled by college-for-all expectations, English Learner education is shifting “from the language of instruction to the quality of instruction,” says Kenji Hakuta, a Stanford professor who specializes in language learning.

Nearly all students at Hoover School in Redwood City, California come from Spanish-speaking families.

Hoover students are expected to be proficient in English by 4th grade.

Common Core exams are accelerating the move away from the old bilingual model. Principals want kids who will be tested in English to be taught in English.

However, “dual immersion” schools are growing in popularity. Educated suburban parents want their kids to be fluent in two languages. Quality tends to be high: These schools can’t dumb down expectations or use bilingual aides instead of teachers, because middle-class parents won’t stand for it.

In 1998, Californians passed Proposition 227, which limited bilingual education. A measure to repeal most of 227 is on the November 2016 ballot. It would let children be placed in non-English instruction without parental waivers. I think it has no chance of passing.

“When 227 passed, I thought it would be a disaster,” Frances Teso, a former bilingual teacher, told  me. “Now I think it was a good thing in some ways. It eliminated a lot of low-quality bilingual programs and opened the door to better-quality programs.”

Teso founded Voices College-Bound Language Academy, a high-performing K-8 charter school in San Jose that uses a modified dual-immersion model.

‘Speaking in Tongues’

Speaking in Tongues makes the case for bilingualism, reports Ed Week.

Faster exit from English Learner status

Any “English Learner” who scores proficient in English and earns a B average should be out of the program, argues Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton, in an Orange County Register commentary. Norby, who’s taught immigrants as a high school and night school ESL teacher, has introduced a bill to do that. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, has a bill to change the home language survey, which can place a child in the English Learner program if any adult speaks a language other than English ever.

The California English Language Development Test is difficult to pass, especially for those barely able to read, and there is no statewide standard as to what is a passing grade. School funding is based partly on ELL percentages, so there is a financial incentive to keep kids in the program. Annual testing is costly, time-consuming and takes students away from valuable class time.

Parental petitions to remove their kids from ELL are routinely rejected. Some are told that, while their child may be conversant in English, they don’t yet know “academic English.” Well, what first-grader does?

Poorly educated parents don’t know how to get their kids out of ELL status, Norby writes. In Santa Ana, where 11 percent of the K-12 students are foreign-born, 55 percent are classified as ELL. In wealthier Irvine,  19 percent of the students are born abroad – mostly from Asia and the Middle East — yet only 13 percent are ELL.

“In a globalized economy, California’s bilingual kids are an asset to our state and should not be placed in academic dumping grounds,” Norby writes.

Bilingualism strengthens the brain

Being bilingual makes you smarter, writes Yudhijit Bhattacharjee in the New York Times. Juggling two languages gives “the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles.”

The collective evidence from a number of such studies suggests that the bilingual experience improves the brain’s so-called executive function — a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing various other mentally demanding tasks. These processes include ignoring distractions to stay focused, switching attention willfully from one thing to another and holding information in mind — like remembering a sequence of directions while driving.

The cognitive benefits may even prevent dementia in old age.

I’m tutoring a bilingual first grader in reading. When she asked if Spanish was bad, I gave her a pep talk on bilingualism making the brain stronger.

“Dogs can’t really talk,” she responded.

“They can say ‘arf’,” I said. She was not impressed. “No, dogs can’t really talk,” I said. We moved on.

Mandarin pulls new students to LA school

Mandarin immersion program is drawing white and Asian students to what was a heavily Latino, under-enrolled elementary school, reports the Los Angeles Times. Enrollment is up:  Dual-language students may outnumber students in regular classes in a few years.

In 2009, 81% of Broadway’s students were Latino, 15% were black, six were white and none were Asian, reports the Times. “The next year, the new classes of Mandarin immersion students were almost exclusively white and Asian,” though a handful of black and Latino students have chosen the program. Few students are native Mandarin speakers.

Students spend half the day learning exclusively in Mandarin, half the day in English with a different teacher.

“These programs have had very good results for the English speakers, sometimes not quite as great for the other language speakers,” said Sacramento-based bilingual consultant Norm Gold. “But it all depends on doing a quality implementation.”

Even excluding the students in the Mandarin program, Broadway has boosted its standardized test scores — up more than 100 points to 869 on the Academic Performance Index from 2008 when (Principal Susan) Wang arrived. Mandarin immersion students were too young to be tested last spring, but the school’s scores could rise again next year.

Mandarin immersion attracts the children of ambitious, educated parents, most of whom are Asian or white and middle or upper-middle class. No wonder it’s popular with parents.

Via Alexander Russo.

Pablo the Bilingual Reindeer

In a dress rehearsal for the winter concert, the chorus at PS22 sings Pablo The Reindeer, a New York City classic. Via Gotham Schools.