When middle school teacher Robert Ortiz walked into his school's cafeteria Tuesday morning he wasn't expecting a red, white, and blue balloon send-off. Ortiz, who teaches bilingual social studies classes, is a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and has been called for leadership training for the next four months in Georgia and Texas. Then, he plans to return home to Lockport, but he could be called for active duty, serving eight to 18 months.
Spanish-speaking public school students will have to take standardized tests in English beginning Tuesday, after the state rebuffed a last-ditch effort by Chicago Public Schools to delay the testing. Chicago Public Schools chief Arne Duncan blasted the state Monday for moving forward with the Illinois State Achievement Test, even for students who are more fluent in Spanish. State officials have said they have no choice, since federal education officials said that a Spanish-language alternative, the IMAGE test, is not adequate.
English language learners often have trouble improving their vocabulary, leading to reading comprehension difficulties and problems with learning in all academic content areas. Elizabeth Howard is among a group of researchers who think that teaching native Spanish speakers about cognates — words comparable across English and Spanish because of their common Greek or Latin roots — may facilitate the process. Howard, an assistant professor of bilingual education at the University of Connecticut's Department of Curriculum and Instruction, is co-investigator of a four-year study exploring the use of cognates to promote vocabulary development and reading comprehension among native Spanish speaking adolescents.
In North Carolina, Charlotte's growing diversity will soon become more colorful, with the start of work on the city's largest publicly funded Latino art project. Called "Home Sweet Home," the 9-foot-high, 25-foot-long mural on canvas is intended to depict the immigrant experience of straddling two cultures. It is funded by a new Arts & Science Council initiative that seeks to encourage Latinos to share their culture with the community, and Latino students from four city schools will help with the painting. The work will also be taped by filmmaker Catalina Echeverry for a documentary on the experiences of Charlotte's Latino population through the eyes of its children.
A wave of teaching children foreign languages in schools from an early age has emerged nationally as well as in Washington's Puget Sound area. Due to the region's extensive diversity, many of the area schools focus on the non-English speaking students by offering immersion programs such as English Language Learners (ELL), and the exposure to other languages for English speakers is reserved for high school students. Now, due to the growth of cultural diversity in the region, local school districts have implemented language immersion programs where children are being taught in English for half of the day and in a different language for the other half to encourage bilingual acquisition.
Educators in Illinois' Diamond Lake District 76 were filled with pride when the state's top school official praised them recently for academic improvement. A few weeks later, though, the district got a different kind of feedback from the state. Officials were told to comply with the state's bilingual education program, or lose a $175,000 grant. Lawmakers and school leaders are scheduled to talk about the issue in coming weeks. At issue, local officials say, is a lack of enough bilingual teachers to meet the state's requirements.
A steady influx of immigrants has fueled the need for teachers with English-language-learner training, state and local districts say. ELL students made up 9 percent of the students in the state in 2006, up from 3.5 percent in 1990, according to a recent report. The demand for ELL teachers is greatest in districts in Eastern Washington, where, in some schools, more than half the students are Hispanic.
On Friday morning, a first-grader at Johnson Elementary School read a book aloud by himself for the first time. As an English-language acquisition student, this student's first language is not English, and he started his first-grade year at Johnson with less than a kindergarten reading level. It's the sort of improvement that Colorado's Poudre School District is looking for as it tries to boost the percentage of third-graders who read at grade level or beyond. The school's principal attributed the gains that first-grader has made, as well as reading improvements throughout the school, to an increased emphasis this year on individual and small-group reading sessions for all grade levels.
This editorial from the bilingual newspaper <em>El Diario</em> discusses Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed public school budget cuts and their effect on ELLs: "If advocates for communities that have long been disadvantaged are upset, it is with reason. The public schools that are being hit the hardest are those with large numbers of English Language Learners (ELLs), according to the New York Immigration Coalition. A $5 million city cut to a teacher reserve for ELLs would double next year."
How best can we educate an ever more diverse set of kids in the classroom? We actually do have many good answers based on serious research from a whole variety of fields including anthropology, sociology, social history, psychology, applied linguistics, and pedagogy (education). We know that a student often begins at a disadvantage when there is a difference between that youngster's home language and culture and the school's language of instruction and culture. However, this beginning disadvantage for a culturally distinct youngster can be turned into plus for everyone.