In 2012, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that 9. 2 percent or 4. 4 million of public school students in the United States were English Language Learners, or ELLs. While the national average was almost 10 percent, the state of California had the highest enrollment, at nearly 23 percent (nces. gov). With so many students in US schools for whom English is not their first language, it was decided that these students should receive some sort of English language education to facilitate their learning.
This idea was protected and implemented by Title VII in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) enacted by President Johnson in 1965. I wanted to research different methods of bilingual education, how they have been implemented in schools, and student achievement in them. I found that most English language programs have not been effective for ELLs. First, I will determine what constitutes being an English Language Learner, examine the teacher preparation for teaching bilingual students.
Then, I will analyze both the pitfalls and victories of programs like English as a Second Language (ESL), High Intensity Language Training, and bilingual education. Lastly, I using the research gathered from the successful and unsuccessful programs, I will speculate about which aspects could be combined to create the most effective bilingual education program. Most people associate term English Language Learner with someone who’s first language is Spanish because it seems to be the most common. However, ELLs go beyond Spanish speakers and can be learners who speak a myriad of other languages.
In fact, ELLs account for more than four hundred languages being spoken in the US (Xu, 305). I will be focusing on those who are currently living in the United States learning English. I will be discussing specific cases of a child who’s native languages are Zigua, Somali, and Swahili, a child who’s native language is Spanish, and children with learning disabilities. Since the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, or NCLB, a large emphasis has been placed on school and teacher accountability. So, many think the problems with ELL education lies within teacher preparation, or he lack thereof.
“According to a study from the National Center for Education Statistics, among the 41% of teachers nationwide with ELL students in their classrooms, only 12. 5% participated in eight or more hours of professional development related to ELL instruction in the previous three years” (Xu, 310). Teachers are not receiving adequate training to effectively teach their students. The same can be said for speech-language pathologists as well (SLPs). While most do not receive preservice training, some only receive textbook examples without any experience or connection to real world situations.
Researcher Carlotta Kimble created a study that focused on SLPs that work with English Language Learners. Her study “examines SLPs’ comfort levels in assessment and intervention of ELLs and whether professional development, or lack of professional development, contributes to their feelings of well-being or anxiety” (Kimble, 22). She collected data from nearly two hundred six-question surveys and found that most of the speech-language pathologists felt uncomfortable working with ELLs. It also found a moderate correlation between level of comfortability and amount of workshops attended.
Kimble acknowledges that preservice teacher training and professional development initiatives do exist but believes they should be improved. The No Child Left Behind Act was enacted in 2001 by President Bush as a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act enacted in 1965. After its adoption, the NCLB removed the words “bilingual education” from the law and as a result began to focus less and less on respecting and maintaining the students’ first languages and instead placing an emphasis on English-only education (Frenner, 104). New York City schools are a great example for this change.
In 2002, around 40 percent of NYC ELLs participated in a bilingual education program that could have been transitional or dual language. By 2011, the number had dropped to just over 20 percent. Conversely, just over 50 percent of ELLs were enrolled in English as a Second Language programs. This number rose to 70 percent in 2011 (Menken, 98). Another problematic aspect of the NCLB with respect to English language education is the accountability and high-stakes testing. Menken cites these aspects as reasons for the elimination of bilingual education programs. So much of the NCLB is dependent upon standardized testing.
It’s considered “high-stakes” because failure could result in closure and loss of funding in schools as well as retention and inability to graduate for students. English Language Learners are required to take the tests in English, which encourages teachers to teach to the test; that is, teaching students in the language they are going to be using on the tests. This means that there is no longer a need for bilingual education programs. Bilingual students are considered part of the problem because 31 percent of NYC schools that are in danger of closing and losing funding are so because ELLs failed to meet standards.
The problem with all of this is that “emergent bilinguals will always be considered ‘low performing’ on tests administered in English” because they are not yet proficient in it (Menken, 102). Mencken also mentions the discrepancies with the words used on English and Math tests administered to high school seniors. The tests often used words that were not on the “frequently used” list of the English language or at least not used in the region. For example, one passage was about straw bales. Since this word is not commonly used, it is very unlikely that the ELL would understand it.
This, in turn, hinders the student because they have no understanding of the main idea of the passage and thus are unable to answer the question. These concepts can also be proven with New York City school statistics. Their school district requires students to pass English and Math Regents tests to be considered eligible for graduation. Researchers in California have found significant differences in the test scores of English Language Learners and native English speakers. According to data from 2003, only 41 percent of ELLs were able to pass the English tests while 76 percent of their native English speaking counterparts passed them.
Furthermore, 52 percent of ELLs met Math standards while 77 percent of native English speakers met them. The passing of these tests, in turn, have a negative effect graduation rates. While the overall New York City graduation rate was 69 percent, the English Language Learner graduation rate was only 25 percent (Menken, 125). The lower ELL graduation rates could be a result of the inability to pass regents tests or dropouts. In 2001, before the adoption of these tests, the ELL dropout rate was 21 percent, compared to the native English speaker rate of 16 percent.
After the adoption of these tests, both percentages rose. The non-ELL rate creeped up to 17 percent while the ELL rate rose to 29 percent (Menken, 126). These percentages not only cause problems for students, but also teachers and school administrators due to the high accountability of the NCLB. Statistics that are compiled from clinical research studies do not always accurately portray the lives of those they are studying. Case studies, on the other hand, offer an insight not only into the factors that comprise quantitative data but also the qualitative data that can only be received by closely studying one person.
They are especially important when studying students for whom English is not the first language because researchers are able to examine other factors besides demographics and test scores that may affect the students’ performance. There are two case studies that follow the lives of two students, a Korean girl named Kim and an eighteen year-old Kenyan girl named Mumina. Kim’s study was conducted in 2004 and looked at how she acquired English literacy skills and what strategies she used to excel in her college classes (Bifuh, 24).
She was a doctoral student and speaks Korean, Japanese, and a bit of French. The researchers conducted semistructured and unstructured interviews about her experiences and examined GPAs, class notes, papers, etc. They also observed her in the classroom and cafeteria, and spoke with professors and administrators. She was interviewed three times, each lasting about two hours. She began learning English in Korea in eighth grade. She was mostly taught “grammatical structures, isolated vocabulary words, and substitution drills” (Bifuh, 27).
At the university, Kim’s ELL classes focused on “reading, writing, essential English grammar, and English rhetoric. The courses prepare students to deal with basic interpersonal communication in English…The instructors emphasized comprehension above other language skills” (Bifuh, 27). There was almost no focus on speaking and communication, just writing. From observations, researchers noted that Kim rarely asked questions during class and instead held them for office hours. During her interviews, Kim said that she prefers to ask questions during office hours because class discussions sometimes stress her out.
Researchers found that she had difficulty in receptive and expressive language, writing, comprehension of content area material, and differences in teaching, learning, and assessment models. In order to overcome the struggles in these areas, Kim spent more time on assignments, sat in the front of the class, made American friends to practice her English with, used academic peer coaching services, joined study groups, developed a note-taking strategy, and watched television to listen for subtle details about speaking English (Bifuh, 30).
Mumina is an eighteen year-old eleventh grade Kenyan girl who speaks Zigua, Somali, and Swahili but is not literate in any of them. Her mentor, Zaline, has been able to assess Mumina’s progress and what she is having difficulty with. She noticed that Mumina can speak English easily but has difficulty reading the words. Mumina told her mentor that she tries to listen to her English Language Arts teacher but doesn’t much of what is said.
Because of this she feels as though she cannot participate in class discussions. She even says that each day, “I just feel like crying” (Campbell). They review Regents practice tests in which Mumina reads the passages and simply guesses an answer. She also translates former mother, which causes her to miss a lot of school (Campbell). Despite the many pitfalls of the United States’ bilingual education programs, there are some which have been very successful in educating English Language Learners.
For example, in 2008, researchers Jung Won and Suhyun Suh created six-week summer program for ELLs that focused on Reading and Writing, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), SAT Preparation, and Adult English. The program met for three hours Monday through Thursday. Self-concepts were administered to students before and after classes. Jung found that “the overall means of self-concept of all students increased except for the students in the SAT class. However, the differences were small for all participants, and no statistically significant impact on self-concept was found” (Jung, 3).