‘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.

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.

My old high school will go bilingual

More students are choosing bilingual education in Chicago’s North Shore, reports the Chicago Tribune. Highland Park High — my alma mater — will offer core subjects taught in English and Spanish in the next five years.

Officials say no standardized test fully illustrates the impact of the K-8 dual language program.

But school officials say data from various student achievement measures, as well as student and parent testimonials, show a clear benefit from native English and native Spanish speakers learning together in a dual-immersion environment where Spanish is the dominant language from kindergarten through second grade. By the time students reach fifth grade, classroom work is about 50-50 Spanish-English.

In my day, Highland Park High enrolled HP kids (middle or upper-middle class and often Jewish), Highwood kids (working class and Italian) and Fort Sheridan kids (lots of Southerners). Now, the fort has been turned into condos. I guess the Italians have moved up and out. More than 70 percent of students are Latino at Highwood’s Oak Terrace Elementary School. Districtwide, it’s about a quarter. Almost 15 percent of district students are in bilingual classes.

To better nurture the bilingual identity, Highland Park High will phase in dual language math, science and social studies classes over the next five years, Assistant Principal Tom Koulentes said. The school is about 18 percent Latino.

The district uses a double immersion model:  It mixes equal numbers (if possible) of native English speakers and native Spanish speakers. In kindergarten through second grade, students are taught in Spanish 80 to 90 percent of the time. “Your child’s going to get that English,” Jaime Barraza told parents at the informational meeting. “We need to get more Spanish in there.”

Bilingual students catch up in reading and math by fifth grade, said Barraza, who oversees the bilingual program.

So why do they need to learn math, science and social studies in Spanish in high school?

Too much Spanish = hostile environment?

An Arizona nursing student claims she was suspended for complaining that classmates disrupted classes by speaking Spanish. In her lawsuit, Terri Bennett, 50, said classmates spoke Spanish during lessons — apparently translating for non-English speakers — and primarily spoke Spanish during labs, clinicals and other activities. That made it hard for her to learn and created a “hostile environment,” she complained. In addition, the Pima Community College nursing program director called her a “bigot and a bitch,” she charged, before suspending her on charges of intimidation (arguing with an instructor about a test answer), discrimination and harassment.

Students complained that Bennett was harassing and intimidating them for having private conversations in Spanish, David Kutzler, the nursing program director, told the Daily Caller.  He denies calling Bennett a “bigot and a bitch.”

Fired teacher: ‘Negro’ is a color, not a slur

A Bronx teacher fired for calling a student “Negro” says she was teaching the Spanish words for colors at a bilingual middle school, reports the New York Post.

Petrona Smith, 65, a black native of the West Indies, was fired in 2012  and hasn’t worked since. Now she’s filed suit.

She also was accused of calling seventh-grade students “failures,” but claims in court papers that she merely asked students who’d failed a test to move to the back of the room.

She denied calling the student a “Negro,” and explained to investigators that she was teaching a lesson about how to say different colors in Spanish and said the word “negro,” which is Spanish for the color black. She told her students that it was not a derogatory term and that the Spanish word for a black person was “moreno.”

She added that she’d been verbally abused by her charges, including being called a “f—ing monkey,” a “cockroach” and a “n—r,” but had never stooped to their level.

One seventh grader complained about Smith and three others agreed she’d insulted her students.

Hat is 'hat'

From The Onion: Arizona High Schools To Now Teach Spanish Entirely In English

In other Onion news: Struggling High School Cuts Football — Nah, Just Kidding, Art It Is

Incomprehensible: Wisconsin history in Spanish

Elementary students in Waunakee, Wisconsin are learning social studies in Spanish — only parents say they’re learning neither the subject nor the foreign language, reports the Wisconsin State Journal.  Students don’t study Spanish on its own. They’re supposed to pick it up in context through three half-hour social studies classes  three days a week in first through fourth grades.

In the lower grades, there’s so little content in social studies classes — “community and family structure” are the themes —  that children’s lack of comprehension didn’t generate complaints.  But now the program has moved to fourth grade. Students are supposed to learn Wisconsin history in a language they don’t know.

(Parent Jean) Magnes said because of how the subject has been taught, students aren’t learning Spanish or history.

“They don’t enjoy (Spanish), don’t speak it,” she said.

Parents would support a Spanish class in elementary school, but officials say there’s not enough time in the school day.

Learning English in 2008

Ed Week’s Mary Ann Zehr recaps English learning stories of 2008.

You’ve got to love the One Semester of Spanish Love Song.