"The worst time in your life to immigrate is 17 years old." Canadian school district administrator Tony Carrigan has worked with new immigrants for years and seen up close how frustrating it is for newly arrived teens to catch up to their peers when they get a late start. "In many cases you haven't completed your high school at home and you don't have enough English to be able to go on to post-secondary education," he says.
Oregon's Eugene School District has been plotting the launch of a Mandarin Chinese immersion program for nearly two years, but, as became clear recently, it's no slam-dunk — much to the frustration of parents and community members who can't fathom why there would be any hesitation.
For school district superintendents and teachers, the need to integrate the county's growing Hispanic population is, literally, academic. It stems from the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires all public school students in third through eighth grades and 11th grade to score "proficient" or better on standardized reading and math tests by 2014. To make sure no students slip through the cracks, the law requires those same goals be met by all students in a school or district, and by students in four subgroups that statistically perform more poorly on standardized tests: low-income, special education, English as Second Language, and minorities. The Hispanic sub-group is one of the minorities in that mix, and in Northeastern Pennsylvania, the double whammy of more grades being tested and more Hispanics in those grades has made Hispanic test results much more important today than five years ago.
Martha Calle, a baby sitter from Colombia, wants to own her own day care. Daniel Esgralo, a landscaper from Mexico, wants to be able to express himself. Thousands of adults use free English as a Second Language classes throughout North Carolina so they can teach their children and advance at work. Calle and Esgralo study through a N.C. Community College System program that is funded by taxpayer money and does not check the legal status of its students.
Eighteen students sit in Rachel Mangum's classroom at Desert Shadows Middle School, practicing new vocabulary words to describe how to protect the environment. Juanita Martin sits at a small table with six first-graders at Oak Tree Elementary School. She helps Daniel Hwang as he tries to think of a word ending in "ss" to write on the board. According to state data, the non-English speakers at these two Arizona schools are more likely than their peers at most other East Valley schools to learn English and to shed their status as "English-Language Learners." Responding to new legislation, the state is preparing to change the way it educates its English learners this fall. As part of those changes, there will be more pressure placed on schools to successfully move English learners to speaking proficient English — and to do it more quickly.
Elaine Rasmussen's classroom at Hoover Elementary in Cedar Rapids has gone international. She's in charge of one of the district's growing English Language Learner's programs. This is the first year the ELL program as been at Hoover, but the students at Hoover come from 13 different countries and speak 12 different languages. The teachers say having extra diversity is teaching everyone lessons they weren't expecting.
University of California, Davis, researchers presented findings this week that say African American and Latino students lag behind their white counterparts in earning university degrees despite an increase in minority students attending college. The researchers found that between 1972 and 1992, the percentage of African American and Latino high school graduates who entered college rose, but college completion rates for both minority groups fell.
It doesn't take much to bring Mary Helen Berlanga, the senior member of the Texas State Board of Education, back to her own school days. Sometimes the memories are tough, but it helps drive the daughter of immigrants to fight for what she thinks minority children need to succeed. Berlanga, who as a child learned English from seven older siblings, has pushed her colleagues to develop a new English language arts and reading curriculum that takes into consideration the growing ranks of minority children who struggle with the language barrier. Now in her 26th year on the board, she is still waiting. Her opponents among the board's 15 members finally agreed last week to invite two Hispanic experts to work on a final version of a new English language arts and reading plan for Texas public schools. The impact of that concession won't be known for another month or so.
The State Board of Education gave unanimous approval last week to a new English and reading curriculum for Texas' 4.6 million public school students, although the contentious battle over what gets included in language arts textbooks and what gets taught in classrooms is far from finished. The product of nearly three years of work, the new curriculum will affect the teaching of reading, writing and grammar in kindergarten through 12th grade, as well as the content of the state's high-stakes standardized tests.
Inside this classroom at Massachusetts' Stacey Middle School, filled exclusively with "English language learner" students, Maria Smolina, 13, was enough at ease to share an essay she wrote about her arrival in the United States two years ago. Smolina is one of about 200 students attending the Milford school system's redesigned program for newcomers to English. The initiative will be put to the test over the next week, as Milford joins schools across the state in administering the English language arts segment of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams.