Posts filed under ‘ELL’

Dear Boston: You Need a Multilingual Exam School

Let’s begin at the top. A Grade 7-12 exam school for students who excel in linguistics would be a great way to meld cultures and celebrate language arts. The service gap to Latino students has persisted through a number of school transformations across the public schools in the City of Boston. Instead of searching for universal exemplars in English Language Learning, perhaps students would be better served by delving deeper into their strengths in World Languages.

The Boston Public Schools have been challenged to do a better job teaching Latino students. Law suits have led to a series of citations for poor service delivery with English Language Learners. The problem has persisted despite a number of initiatives to improve equity in education. A vision for under-served students has focused on pulling them up from the bottom in academic achievement, which by definition places a problematical label on Latino students. And it overlooks the strength they could bring to a multicultural world.

A few years ago I wrote about Charter Americas, a community-based idea for students transitioning to English language schools. A cornerstone of the plan was to reverse English Language Arts (ELA) and Foreign Language courses to reflect each student’s strongest native dialect. Essentially, English would be taught as a foreign language. Meanwhile, our ELA standards would be applied to the student’s own language with rigorous grade-level instruction in reading, writing, and speaking with depth in grammar and vocabulary development as well as genre studies. A broader humanities perspective would pull in elements of history, culture, and the arts.

This earlier program was conceived as a community center for multicultural activities that would transcend the primary goal of assimilating students into the Boston Public Schools. It would be a place for lifelong learning for non-native speakers of English to which students and their families could return to celebrate their heritage, for example, in the arts, oratory, or other cultural interests. To take the idea to the next level, however, would require bilingual rigor across a college-preparatory curriculum, essentially a multilingual exam school.

English language learners often have faced an ironic blend of excessive challenge with immersion courses while being bored by content that was necessarily superficial. Diverse learners have been frustrated with a standard program that seemed not to fit anyone. And there has been nowhere for advanced students from other cultures to achieve continuity in their studies in the US. Further, the bottom-up approach to newcomers has cost them their identities as high achievers.

Existing ELL programs would benefit from a program that identified students with the highest academic potential and channeled them into appropriate pathways for advanced studies. A multilingual exam school would stratify students initially, an undemocratic approach in the short term. However, it would inject high expectations and empowerment into a system that is struggling to realize equity in education. And it would create an incubator for an under-served population to teach educators how better to serve the larger population of English Language Learners.


May 17, 2015 at 11:20 AM Leave a comment

New PreK-12 Education Priorities for the Returning Obama Administration

The Common Core State Standards, NCLB waivers, and Race to the Top initiatives have altered the landscape in education in the absence of an NCLB rewrite. On this day of reflection after Election 2012, I offer a few thoughts on resetting policy priorities until ESEA renewal becomes feasible.

Entering the 2nd term, in my humble opinion, the Obama Administration could benefit from raising the priority of three issues in PreK-12 education…

  • Decision architecture for education finance, reporting, and analysis
  • Federal support for government employee pension reform
  • Incentives/accountabilities for grade level proficiency for students in general or special education and students who are English language learners

Decision Architecture

The Race to the Top program (RttT) has instructed states and districts to design new approaches to student funding, teacher effectiveness, and student outcomes. Having completed the idea generation phase for reinvention of the decision architecture within education authorities, it is time to draw expertise from beyond traditional regulatory compliance models. Educators need to learn from non-education sources with more expertise in aligning information and analyses to the mission of educating children efficiently and effectively.

The finished products should draw on the best of the general industry models and those presented by RttT exemplars. They should include a standard for financial reporting that is student-centered as well as data elements to be automated in support of teacher effectiveness and student outcome reports.

Pension Reform

Government employee pensions are straining fiscal resources while yielding inequitable benefits for plan participants and limiting their career mobility. Current retirees and vested employees need security with their defined-benefit pensions. Separately, the wisdom of continuing to underwrite such pensions in the future needs to be assessed. However, any introduction of defined-contribution pensions for new or unvested employees would result in eventual bankruptcy for legacy plans.

The Federal role in the issue could be one of mitigating the financial crisis in pension funding. Changes to the tax code could lower the effective cost of borrowing for sponsors to meet pension obligations. In addition, elimination of the Social Security opt-out would extend the safety net for employees switching to higher risk, defined-contribution pension plans. A prior post discussing this issue can be found here.

Grade Level Proficiency

When redefining the data elements needed for measuring student outcomes, Federal regulators will need to keep in mind new targets and deadlines for general grade-level proficiency among PreK-12 students. Longitudinal tracking across content areas will need to be enhanced significantly, especially to ensure that students receiving services in Special Ed or ELL programs are demonstrating accelerated progress in response to accommodations and modifications.

This shift in emphasis should create incentives to move beyond regulatory compliance to demonstration of real benefits for students, a continuation of the work announced in an Education Department notice available here.

Other items on the Federal agenda

Meanwhile, teacher preparation does not need to be such a high priority on the Federal agenda. Educators are being trained under a variety of conditions ranging from rigorous 5­-year programs that combine baccalaureate and master’s degrees to boot camp immersion programs or online courses with limited apprenticeships. Aggressive evaluation of the most highly structured programs exclusively is both unfair and at risk of overestimating the state of the art in actual practice. In addition, success has been seen with many teacher prep models, raising doubt that the problem lies with the pipeline of new teachers.

Rather, a crucial lapse in quality arises because individual schools and districts show uneven results with their ability to keep teachers in top form professionally throughout their careers. That is a local problem that is being addressed retrospectively through the teacher evaluation process. Prospectively, Federal regulators should consider grants for demonstration projects to introduce general management and human resource expertise from general industry into education leadership development.

November 7, 2012 at 2:46 PM Leave a comment

Thoughts on English Language Learning

In the world of multiple intelligences, linguistics is NOT one of mine. However, I try to pay attention to any dialogue on language acquisition or management of English Language Learners (ELL). After many years of listening to proponents for bilingual education, full immersion, or sheltered immersion programs, I have designed a couple of hybrid models for 1st year ELL students.

The first, CharterAmericas creates a community center based charter school that assimilates the speaker of limited English with a very strong primary language. The program celebrates the intersection of the cultures of the Americas and provides a combination of bilingual and sheltered immersion learning. Further, it seeks to engage the local community in a shared value of multilingual language fluency.

The second, a Cultural Studies program, focuses on native language instruction of topics across the curriculum to students with very little understanding of English and significant gaps in knowledge from very significant absenteeism. In this latter program, the goal for students is to achieve foundation content knowledge and improve skill in language arts while studying their own culture and native tongue.

Common themes with both programs include…

  • Strong language arts studies in the student’s native language
  • English taught as a foreign language credit
  • Emphasis on native language for new academic content, English instruction for rehearsal of familiar concepts
  • Living arts content in English with vocabulary training and hands-on learning opportunities

Option 1: A charter school that serves as a one-year intensive academic transition program for newcomers with modest English proficiency. The school is part of a community center that serves the extended family as they adjust to life in an English-speaking world.


Languages of the Americas, Year 1 ELL program 

Language Arts – Primary language at grade level with learning standards comparable to ELA. This course is intended to develop deep knowledge and appreciation of reading with comprehension, writing by genre with appropriate mechanics, and vocabulary growth in the students’ native language.

Co-teaching at Grade level with interpreter – in English + primary language translations with after-school tutoring in primary language

  • Math
  • Social Studies
  • Science

Electives – bilingual with English vocabulary learning standards, oral and written assessments, and performance tasks for content

  • English I as a Foreign Language credit
  • The Arts – fine art, music, drama, dance
  • Living Arts – Culinary arts, fashion, woodworking, handyman
  • Technology – Keyboarding, Office Software, Graphics, Web Design,
  • Health and Physical Education

Community links

  • Lifelong learning – tutoring support after program completion
  • Whole family success planning (ESL, career counseling and training, adult education)
  • Leadership series – multilingual lectures, debates, cultural events
  • Part-time interpreters from community
  • Feeder schools in local district
  • Universities with cultural links – Latino and/or Caribbean studies
  • Performance series – student and community productions
  • Support services – counseling, health links  

Languages supported

  • Creole
  • English
  • French
  • Portuguese
  • Spanish

April 6, 2011 at 4:08 PM 2 comments