German schools improve — for low achievers


Immigrant children learn German in a “welcome” class at a Berlin school. Credit: Fabrizio Bensch, Reuters

Germany has increased test scores while decreasing inequality, writes Carly Berwick in The Atlantic.

“PISA shock” hit Germany in 2000, when students scored below the international average (and below the U.S.)  in all three tested subjects.

Among the OECD countries,German schools posted the largest gap between top and bottom quartile students. Students with immigrant parents were much less likely to qualify for the college-prep track.

Germany’s reform efforts included the creation of national standards and standards-based tests for students in grades three and eight, which sounds much like the U.S. approach. But unlike the U.S., Germany doesn’t penalize schools for poor performance, nor does it publicize school-level test scores. Experts say its focus instead on providing school-based support, and monitoring and targeting the most disadvantaged students has allowed it to improve performance.

By 2012, German students scored above the OECD average, in part due to “dramatic increases” in math scores for disadvantaged students.

Some parts of Germany are phasing out the lowest high school track, which led only to low-wage jobs.

While Germany has reduced inequality, it’s done little for its high achievers, write Fordham’s Checker Finn and Brandon Wright.

Since 2009, “the percentage of German top scorers has dropped in every math and science measure across age groups—fourth grade, eighth grade, and age 15—as well as fourth grade reading.”

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.

Refugees ‘torn between two worlds’


Students leaving Patterson High at the end of a spring day include, starting fourth from left, Nadifa Idriss, Mona Al halabi, Manuel Maurizaca and Fayza Al halabi. Credit: Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun

At Baltimore’s Patterson High, 370 of 1,100 students are immigrants, including refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Central America. The number has tripled in the past two years, reports Liz Bowie in the Baltimore Sun in part 1 of Unsettled Journeys.

Many of these students “came to escape war, gang violence and starvation,” reports Bowie.

At the Hispanic Psychiatric Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Donna Fallon Batkis is treating young immigrants who’ve survived kidnappings and rape, “not just rape of women, but sexual abuse of men.”

Reema and Ahmed Alfaheed look at videos of the refugee camp near Iraq-Syria border, where they lived for six years after fleeing Baghdad. Credit: Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun

Reema and Ahmed Alfaheed look at videos of the refugee camp near the Iraq-Syria border, where they lived for six years. Credit: Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun

Thanks to modern technology, students can stay in touch with loved ones  — or watch a beheading in their home country.

Narmin Al Eethawi’s father was kidnapped and tortured in Baghdad. Four uncles were killed.

Her “phone buzzed with Facebook text messages throughout her day with snippets of news from Iraq,” writes Bowie. Her sister is there — and Mustafa, who wants her to return to marry him. “When she got lost in Baltimore and didn’t know what to do, she called 22-year-old Mustafa to help her with directions.”

Even amid the tranquillity of a soccer field, Reema Alfaheed, one of Narmin’s best friends, couldn’t escape. She was on the phone with a friend, a boy in Syria, who was lamenting that, because of the war, he couldn’t play soccer or go to school. Then Reema heard an explosion and people screaming. The phone went dead.

Three days later, she learned her friend had survived the bombing, but was left with a head injury and broken leg.

At his retirement party, Tom Smith, who taught English as a Second Language, encouraged Narmin to break off the relationship with Mustafa and commit to living in America.

Her father, a truck driver, was earning enough for the family to buy a house. Her mother was learning English at community college. Narmin got a summer job at a diner — and a learner’s permit.

By the start of senior year, Narmin “still struggled with English, and anatomy and physiology was a challenge, but she was earning top grades,” writes Bowie. “She wanted a career in medicine.”

She’d decided not to return to Iraq.

Part two focuses on Central American immigrants. Many are here illegally. Exel Estrada, 17, now reunited with his mother after years of fending for himself in Guatemala, works a swing shift as a janitor. “His homework had to wait for the moments he could fit it in: the bus ride to school, a 20-minute free period, lunch or a slow moment during class.”

Undocumented — and very smart

Classics scholar Dan-el Padilla Peralta, a graduate of Manhattan’s Collegiate School, Princeton, Oxford and Stanford, will join the Princeton faculty next year. In Undocumented, he describes his “odyssey from a homeless shelter to the Ivy League.”

Born in the Dominican Republic, Padilla came to the U.S. at the age of four with his parents, who were seeking medical care for his pregnant mother. When the visa expired, she stayed with her two sons. His father, unable to find a job, returned home.

In a homeless shelter’s library, Padilla discovered a book on ancient Greece. He also met an arts teacher who helped him apply for a scholarship to Collegiate, an elite private school that teaches Latin and Greek.

His research focuses on the importance of religion in the rise of mid-Republican Rome.

Chicago schools debut Latino studies

Kindergarteners will learn about the Mayan counting system.

Kindergarteners will learn about the Mayan counting system.

Chicago Public Schools will teach an interdisciplinary Latino and Latin American Studies curriculum to all K-10 students, Melissa Sanchez reports for Catalyst Chicago.

“Kindergartners can learn about the Mayan counting system while they’re learning numbers, and fifth-graders can learn about African influences on South American percussion during music class,” she writes.

“The history of Chicago cannot be written without celebrating the contributions of immigrants from Central America, South America and the Caribbean,” CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a district news release.

More than 45 percent of CPS students are Latino.

On The White Rhino, a Chicago English teacher named Ray Salazar called the curriculum well-intentioned but over-simplified.

Chicago already is piloting an African and African American studies curriculum that was released last year.

Educating migrants

Macarena Vicente Morales
Macarena Vicente Morales, 18, with her U.S.-born son, Jacob, goes to high school in rural Delaware.

Nearly 70,000 unaccompanied children crossed the border last year fleeing poverty and violence in Central America, reports Al Jazeera America. Schools are struggling to educate immigrant children with “different levels of education and English skills, and in many cases, fragmented families, histories of trauma and very uncertain futures.”

Macarena Vicente Morales was 17 years old and nearly eight months pregnant when she swam across the Rio Grande last spring, marking the end of her childhood in Guatemala and the beginning of a new life in the United States.

But Morales said she wasn’t escaping violence; she came to provide a better life for her son. During her three-month stay at a Texas refugee shelter, Morales gave birth to Jacob. And in July, the new mother and baby moved in with Morales’ older sister in Georgetown, Delaware – home to one of the highest concentrations of Guatemalans in the United States.

Under federal law, unaccompanied minors from countries that don’t border the U.S. can stay while they await deportation proceedings.

Migrant workers have been coming to Sussex County, Delaware, since the early 1990s, seeking work in agriculture and poultry plants. Back then, just 2 percent of Georgetown’s population was Latin American. By 2013, that number had soared to 43 percent.

But few were prepared for this new wave of young migrants. Donald Hattier, who’s on the school board of the Indian River School District in Sussex County, said the arrival of nearly 70 migrant children in one school year blindsided his district.

The high school created a special program for the new students. “Reading and writing is definitely a struggle for them, because they don’t read and write in the first language,” teacher Lori Ott said. Some come from Indian communities and don’t speak Spanish or English.

Via This Week in Education.

After the story tale ending …

Spare Parts, which tells the true story of an underdog robotics team of Mexican immigrants, is inspirational and nearly waylaid by cliches, writes the Arizona Republic.

In 2004, Arizona high school boys — all undocumented immigrants — beat well-funded teams from around the country — including a team from MIT — in an underwater robotics competition. Joshua Davis’ Wired article and book inspired a documentary, Underwater Dreams.

When the movie ends, the boys’ future seems to be bright, writes Joshua Davis in a New York Times op-ed. But, because they were undocumented, only one earned a bachelor’s degree and none work in robotics.

One works as a cook, another as a janitor, according to Davis. A third is unemployed. He dropped out of Arizona State when voters passed Proposition 300, which banned state aid or in-state tuition for undocumented students.

 Oscar Vazquez . . . also had a scholarship to A.S.U., and after working menial jobs for a year, was able to attend. He was a sophomore when Proposition 300 passed, and managed to stay in school only by piecing together more scholarships, all while leading the university’s robotics team to regional championships. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2009 and applied for legal residency.

Not only was his application denied, but he was also summarily banned from the United States for 10 years for living here without a visa. He ended up working on an assembly line in Mexico.

After a year, his ban was reversed when Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, interceded on his behalf. Mr. Vazquez returned, enlisted in the Army, and served a tour of combat duty in Afghanistan. He is finally a citizen, and repairs trains in Montana for the railroad company BNSF.

Deporting talented young people who’ve grown up in the U.S. is “a startling rebuke to the American dream,” concludes Davis, who argues for President Obama’s executive action granting work permits to undocumented immigrants like the robotics team.

Immigrant brothers go Ivy

Brothers Edgar and Cesar Garcia Lopez immigrated to the United States from Mexico as children, graduated from Watsonville High School and are finding
Brothers Edgar and Cesar Garcia Lopez wear their college sweatshirts.

Born in Mexico and raised in a California farm town, brothers Edgar and Cesar Garcia Lopez are at home in the Ivy League, reports the San Jose Mercury News Cesar, 17, is in his first year at Yale. Edgar, 20, is a junior at Brown.

“It’s not about being smart,” Edgar said. “It’s about being driven.”

Edgar was 9, Cesar, 6, when their parents, Juan Garcia and Patricia Lopez Garcia, immigrated to the U.S. to ensure their children received the education they were denied. Settling in Watsonville, they went to work at Dole, Juan as a forklift driver, Patricia as a box-maker.

In Watsonville schools, Edgar and Cesar learned English and flourished. Cesar . . . skipped first grade and was among the first students to attend Ceiba College Preparatory Academy, a Pajaro Valley charter school that stresses higher education.

Edgar, winner of a Gates Millennium Scholarship, is studying bioengineering. He’s already got a place in Brown’s medical school and is leaning toward a specialty in orthopedic surgery.

Cesar, who now feels “at home” at Yale, plans to major in ecology and evolutionary biology.

Edgar said having a vision is critical, as is setting goals and working hard to achieve them. He recalled joining track and cross-country teams as a freshman at Watsonville.

“I wasn’t the fastest, but I saw other people running out there, and I wanted to go out there and be like them,” he said. By his junior year, he was the Monterey Bay League champion.

Others may reject you, Edgar said. Never reject yourself.

Dual immersion revives bilingual ed

Bilingual education is making a come back, writes Sarah Garland on Slate. “Dual-language” programs that teach in both English and (usually) Spanish appeal to Hispanics and to middle- and upper-middle-class English speakers who want their kids to be bilingual.

One afternoon last fall, I watched as a group of young Hispanic students trained to become the best Spanish-language spellers in America. Their thick practice packet for the fourth annual National Spanish Spelling Bee began with examples of the easiest words students might expect to encounter in the bee’s first round, like esperar (to wait for), cuidar (to take care of), and peluca (wig); it extended to much harder 20th-round samples, like fisioterapeuta (physical therapist), otorrinolaringologo (ear, nose, and throat specialist), and nenufar (water lily).

Until recently, many Hispanic parents wanted their children to learn English quickly, writes Garland. “Hispanic parents haven’t lost sight of the stigma and obstacles faced by non-English speakers, but they may feel more confident embracing their native language.”

“A growing body of research suggests that dual language education does not hinder a non-native speaker’s progress in English and may actually accelerate it over time if the programs are designed well,” she writes.

 Dual-immersion programs aren’t prone to water down academic content because they include advantaged students whose parents wouldn’t stand for it. That’s a huge advantage over traditional bilingual ed.

A New Mexico student at the state Spanish Spelling Bee in April 2011.A New Mexico student at the state Spanish Spelling Bee in April 2011.

In secondary school, non-fluent students often are taught academic subjects in “sheltered English” classes. “Sheltered” students think they’re stupid, according to a new study. The stigma is strongest for long-time English Learners, weakest for recent immigrants.

That makes sense. Students who’ve gone to U.S. schools since kindergarten and don’t test as proficient in English are less capable than those who’ve left English Learner status behind. Recent immigrants’ lack of English fluency doesn’t say anything about their intelligence.

Most ‘English Learners’ are born in U.S.

Most English Learners — students who aren’t proficient in English — were born in the U.S., notes the Education Writers Association. While 4.7 percent of students were born abroad, 9.1 percent are classified as English Learners.

The category includes many who speak “playground English” but test below grade level in the subject. It’s assumed they lack “academic English” proficiency.

Image of In U.S., Students Struggling with English Outnumber Kids Born Abroad