Thursday, October 29, 2015

Educational Equity for English Language Learners

Ana de Sousa

Today I have the wonderful opportunity to attend the LATISM '15 conference in DC. This is always one of my favorite conferences because there is such a strong focus on education for Latinos. Below is the information I learned at the first Education track breakout session and I know it will be of interest to many of you.

Educational Equity for English Language Learners


  • Milady C. Baez, New York City Department of Education
  • Minnie Cardona, Seminole County Public Schools
  • Gladys Marquez, NEA

Gaps in English Language Learners’ achievement exist across the nation, within communities, and in our schools. This session aims to elicit strategies to engage English Language Learners (ELLs) students in academic learning and English language development. Learn how to create classrooms and a school environment that facilitate language learning and motivate ELLs to practice academic language skills structured to demonstrate growing proficiency.

As the fastest growing populations what are some of the challenges English-language learners face. Marquez said the number of ELL enrollment has grown 57% and that by 2025, 1 in 4 will have been or be in an ELL classroom. However, funding dollars per student have decreased. And it is hard to find quality educators in front of the students who understand their unique needs.

Baez said that New York is focused on narrowing the achievement gap. Most ELL students start in the 10th percentile. The reality is that the school year for an ELL student is 15 months, not 10 months as with general education students. They find these extra 5 months in after school programs, weekend, and other ways.

She said that the most highly effective program is a Dual Language program. Most of the ELLs receive instruction is ESL, then transitional bilingual, then go into general education. Many drop out of school, fall through the cracks, and don't enter college.

So DL programs have become the main focus for NYC. Last year, 40 new DL programs were implemented. Training for the teachers, to create a program that is valuable. They see that a minimum of one year to do planning and train teachers/adminisrators. They anticipate opening 45 additional DL programs this year. They also want ELLs to have access to STEM programs, so 20 schools are going to be part of STEM initiatives because language should not be a barrier, should have accessibility to STEM initiatives.

The mayor of NYC says that equity and excellence in education will be what drives them in NYC. (The mayor is in charge of education for all students in NYC.) He wants all students to have access to computer science in next 10 years and has dedicated $81 million from public and private so all the students will have computer access. They want to focus on closing the achievement gap for ELLs. 

Cardona said the challenge is trying to find highly qualified teachers and asked, "How do we position ELLs to have access to 20th century skills?"

Marquez said that schools are ill-equipped to meet needs of students. Some of the poorest districts don't have the access because they live in the wrong zip code, so poverty has a lot to do with how districts prioritize and fund our students.

Baez said that even when computers are in classrooms, they aren't utilized by teachers who aren't trained on how to use them. We put in the software, but don't train teachers. They are now making a major effort teacher training. Professional development now has to go hand-in-hand with purchased software/technology. Because computers can give students who speak 160 different languages ability to access education.

Marquez said that we need to do a better job of inclusion and advocating for ALL students and develop culturally responsive teaching practices.

According to Baez, bilingual teachers work double than English teachers. They plan lessons, extra materials, they translate for lack of resources, however they get paid the same. There is no incentive for bilingual ed teachers so few people want to become a bilingual ed teacher. NYC is revamping this because it is not fair, many children don't want to become teachers (low pay), they want to create a new generation of teachers, we need higher salaries for teachers in bilingual programs, create more support, and make it more inviting. Right now, you do it because that's your passion, not for the money.

Cardona asked the panelists what strategies they found to be effective.

Marquez strongly feels that it is important to maintain a rigorous standard and have high expectations for the students. She explains to them that they have to learn the exact same things the general ed students do, but in a way that they will learn it best. 

Baez declared that cooperative learning is a must. Latino kids like to work in teams and share the productivity and want to be given specific roles. The work gets done in a project-based manner.

She also focused on vocabulary development and explained that this is not done in the same way as for gen ed learners. It is known that there are seven steps that work for ELLs, and it is critical to  maintain the fidelity of the program and work the steps. But because bilingual teachers are stretched out and have to prepare the class to take the standardized tests, they jump the steps instead, which has a negative impact.

Cardona asked, "How do we do professional development and support teachers?"

Marquez said that they have regular meetings where lead teachers share types of strategies, are encouraged to be slow and engaging. She also said that gen ed and bilingual ed teachers need to go into each other's classrooms to experience both sides so they can be supportive of each other's needs.

Baez emphasized how our teachers need to learn how to meet the educational needs of Latino students.

Cardona asked what can we do at the national/state/local level to ensure that ELLs have equal access to education.

Baez and Marquez both discussed No Child Left Behind's impact. They asked why are we giving ELL's standardized tests when they haven't mastered English yet? They simply can't give the results that the gen ed students can. What message are we giving them? It takes 5-7 years for a child to master English. We're labeling them as failures by giving them tests in a language they have yet to master. 

In addition, teachers are penalized according to their student's performance on the tests. So teachers don't want to be bilingual teachers. NYC has requested a waiver for delivering tests to ELLs, but they've been denied. So they are requesting it again.

Cardona shared that Florida was denied the first time, too, but has now been approved. It's a bill. Two years or more state assessments won't be held against their ELLs.

Marquez said that No Child Left Behind is referred to by teachers as "No Teacher Left Standing." She said that toxic testing is detrimental to the profession and to the students. She gave an example of a student she had from Ecuador who arrived in September and by February was having to take the English test. His experience is not unique. The experience is an emotional and mental blow for ELLs.

Baez said, unfortunately, policies aren't made by educators and they are a hindrance more than a help.


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