Archives for category: English Language Learners

The New York Times published an editorial correctly blasting Betsy DeVos as the worst Secretary of Education in the 40-year history of the Department of Education. Unfortunately, the balance of the editorial was a plea to administer tests to find out how far the nation’s children had fallen behind because of the pandemic.

This is a misguided proposal, as I have explained many times on this blog. See here.

The Times wrote in this editorial:

Given a shortage of testing data for Black, Hispanic and poor children, it could well be that these groups have fared worse in the pandemic than their white or more affluent peers. The country needs specific information on how these subgroups are doing so that it can allocate educational resources strategically.

Beyond that, parents need to know where their children stand after such a sustained period without much face-to-face instruction. Given these realities, the new education secretary — whoever he or she turns out to be — should resist calls to put off annual student testing.

The annual federally mandated testing will not answer these questions, at a cost of $1 billion or more.

The information the Times wants could have been efficiently collected by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tests scientific samples of students in reading and mathematics every other year. The cost would have been substantially less than testing every single student in grades 3-8.

But DeVos canceled the 2021 administration of NAEP. NAEP would have provided voluminous amounts of data about student progress, disaggregated by race, gender, English learner status, and disability status. Everything the Times’ editorial board wants to know would have been reported by NAEP, with no stakes for students, teachers, and schools. No student takes the entire test. The sampling is designed to establish an accurate snapshot of every defined group, and there is a timeline stretching back over decades.

So now, as the editorial demonstrates, the pressure is on to give the annual tests to every single student. The results will be useless. The teachers are usually not allowed to see the questions, never allowed to discuss them, and never allowed to learn how individual students performed on specific questions. The results will be reported 4-6 months after students take the test. The students will have a new teacher. The students will get a score, but no one will get any information about what students do or don’t know.

The tests will show that students in affluent districts have higher scores than students who live in poor districts. Students who are English language learners and students with disabilities, on a average, will have lower scores than students who are fluent in English and those without disabilities. This is not a surprise. This is what the tests show every year.

If Secretary-designate Cardona needs to know how to allocate resources, he doesn’t need the annual tests for direction. He already knows what the tests will tell him. Federal funds should go where the needs are greatest, where low-income students are concentrated, where the numbers of English learners and students with disabilities are concentrated. The nation doesn’t need to spend $1 billion, more or less, to confirm the obvious.

Anyone who thinks that it is necessary or fair to give standardized tests this spring is out of touch with the realities of schooling. More important than test scores right now is the health and safety of students, teachers, and staff.

Advice to the New York Times editorial board: Talk to teachers.


After Johns Hopkins University wrote a scathing critique of the Providence public schools, Governor Gina Raimondo and her new Commissioner of Education took control of the city’s schools. They just announced their turnaround plan and predicted that the low-performing schools of Providence would be on par with the top 25% of schools in the state in five years.

Among the major points of the plan:

It places enhanced focus on the performance of multilingual learners, who represent 34% of Providence students but have been shown to be missing out on an adequate education. Going forward, the district will place more attention on the recruitment of qualified English-as-a-second-language teachers, prioritize meeting the expectations laid out in a Department of Justice settlement over the district’s handling of multilingual learners and double the number of students served by bilingual programs over five years.

The district will renegotiate the collective bargaining agreement with the Providence Teachers Union to make it easier to fire low-performing teachers, hire the best candidates and require additional professional development days, according to the plan.

In order to better engage families, the district will implement a central phone number or text-messaging system for information-sharing that will be accessible 24/7, create a parent and students bill of rights and start a “parent academy” that will train families in how to best advocate for their children. Peters already announced this spring that he plans to completely restructure central office.

The plan also prioritizes hiring more teachers of color, who are underrepresented in Providence schools compared with the student population, in part by partnering with local colleges and universities to attract more diverse candidates to the profession.

The turnaround plan includes an extensive series of metrics that the district aims to hit within five years of implementation, such as increasing the percentage of students who are present for nearly the entire school year to 90% from its current baseline of 62.7%.

To ensure accountability, the district will post updates on the plan’s implementation on 4PVDKids.com and publish a yearly report on its progress.

Nothing was said about additional funding.

I recently wrote an article that referred to charter schools that succeed by excluding students with disabilities, English learners, and others unlikely to get high scores. The editor questioned if this claim was accurate. I turned to several expert researchers to ask their view, and they all agreed with my assertion. David Berliner of Arizona State University—one of the nation’s pre-eminent researchers and statisticians—had data to back it up, and I invited him to write an essay addressing this issue.

He wrote:

Culling, Creaming, Skimming, Thinning: Things We Do to Herds and School Children

To cull is to select things you intend to reject, often in reference to a group of animals. An outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease can cause authorities to order a cull of farm pigs. An outbreak of low-test scores or a meeting with undesirable parents can promote the culling of charter students. To cream is to remove something choice from an aggregate, such as selecting the best and the brightest appearing students and families for acceptance to a charter or private school.

Diane Ravitch was recently criticized for writing that charter schools, supported by public tax money, engage in skimming and creaming students and families. Ravitch, however is right! Public charter schools, and private schools that accept public monies through vouchers, admit only certain students, often those predicted most likely to succeed and whose parents are “acceptable.” And, if these schools choose “wrong,” they cull the herd later. Between selective admissions and culling the student body, the data ordinarily used to describe a school’s accomplishments will make charter and voucher schools look quite good.

Let me illustrate with data collected by my wife, Dr. Ursula Casanova, by a former student (Assistant Professor Amanda Potterton, of the University of Kentucky), and from the ACLU of Arizona.

Dr. Casanova wrote in the Washington Post about the Basis (charter) school in Scottsdale, Arizona, enrolling students in grades 5-12. Based on its test scores that year, it was named the top high school in Arizona. But the year it was so honored, Casanova found enrollments from 5th to 8th grade to be 152, 138, 110, and 94. Then, the high school enrollments, in grades 9-11, were 42, 30, and 23. Finally, the 12th grade graduating class had 8 students! With no shame whatsoever the Basis school was able to claim they graduated 100% of their seniors and that all were accepted at college!

The Basis school of Tucson, part of the same chain of about a dozen charter schools, mostly in Arizona, presented data with a similar pattern. In the year for which Casanova reported, the school started out with 127 students in the fifth grade. But they had only 100 students in eighth grade, 69 in the 9th grade, 45 in 10th grade, and 27 in 11th grade. At the end of 12th grade they had only 24 seniors left at graduation. The graduating class was only 35% of the ninth-grade cohort, and they were less than 20% of that fifth -grade cohort. Culling the herd seems to describe school policy.

Potterton wrote in Teachers College Record about four highly rated charter schools in Arizona, the two Basis schools reported on above, and two other schools from the Great Hearts Academy chain, which run more than 20 schools in the Phoenix area.

In the year of her study she found that the average rate for free and reduced lunch in Arizona schools was 35%. The average for free and reduced lunch in these the four charter schools? 0%, 0%, 0%, 0%. Highly selective admissions and culling work quite well. That same year the state average for English language learners in our schools was 7.5%. The English language learners in these four schools? 0%, 0%, 0%, 0%. The percent of students with IEPs in the state was about 12%. But the percent of such students in these four schools was between, .6% and 3.5%.

Arizona is not unique. In a recent year the federal government reported in the Common Core of data that in 2014 the Boston public schools graduated 85% of its grade 9 students. But the “City on A Hill” Charter school graduated 46% of its grade 9 class; while the “Boston Preparatory Academy,” “Boston Collegiate Charter,” and “Academy of the Pacific Rim Charter” each graduated about 60% of its 9th grade class. Culling in charters seems to be widespread.

Another example comes from Philadelphia’s Boys Latin Charter, as analyzed by Jersey Jazzman in his column of July 28th, 2017. Boys Latin proudly boasted that 98% of its students were accepted into college. But in the years 2011-2015 the school graduated about 60% of its 9th grade class, culling approximately 40% of its student body, and thus allowing the school to make a claim that 98% of its students are accepted to college.

Charter schools cull families with special needs too. Arizona’s ACLU in 2017 noted that state law forbade charter schools from limiting the number of special education students they accept. But “The Rising School” in Tucson advertised blatantly that the school’s special education and resources department “is currently full.… Thus, any student with an IEP will be put on our waiting list.” Also in apparent defiance of the law, “AmeriSchools Academy” (in Phoenix, Tucson, and Yuma) blatantly noted that “Special Education placements are limited to a capacity of ten (10) students for each school site. Students in excess of this number are to be wait listed with provisional registration.”

Further, by state law, Arizona’s charter schools may not require students or their parents to complete pre-enrollment activities, such as essays, interviews or school tours. Nor can charter schools use students’ performance on interviews or essays, or the student’s decision not to complete requested pre-enrollment activities, to determine which students to accept. But the ACLU found that at the “Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy” students must write a one-page essay as part of their enrollment application. As part of the enrollment process at the “Satori Charter School” in Tucson, parents and students must meet with a school administrator. These are all excellent, though illegal ways to cull potentially undesirable families.

State law also directs charter schools not to require parental involvement as a condition of admission. And furthermore, charter schools must not pressure parents into donating money. As in many states, the Arizona Constitution guarantees students the right to a free public education, and charter schools are supposed to be public schools. Yet the same Great Hearts Academy charter schools reported on above asked each family to contribute $1,500 per student per year. Parents were also encouraged to donate anywhere from $200 to $2,000 to the school. The “Mission Montessori Academy” of Scottsdale asked parents to volunteer 15 hours every year per child enrolled, or make a contribution of $150 to the school in lieu of volunteer hours. The “Montessori Day Public School” chain noted that “All parents are expected to contribute 40 hours of volunteer time per family, per year.” The “Freedom Academy” in Phoenix and Scottsdale required a non-refundable $300 “Extracurricular Arts Fee,” due at enrollment. The “San Tan Charter School (in Gilbert, AZ)” required parents to provide a credit card the school can keep on file to pay several fees, including a $250 technology rental fee for grades 9-12. These are all great ways to cull families, illegality be damned!!

In many states, private schools receive public monies through vouchers, and still discriminate against certain children and families, culling them as needed! One of the most blatant examples I know of is the Fayetteville Christian School in North Carolina, a recipient, in a recent school year, of $495,966 of public money. But it is not open to the public! It says, up front, that it doesn’t want Jews, Muslims, Hindu’s and many others. At this school a student, and at least one parent, have to have taken Jesus Christ as their personal savior, or they cannot be admitted. They also cannot engage in sexual promiscuity, illicit drug use and homosexuality—or anything else that scripture defines as deviate or perverted. Any report of such activities by parents or the students is grounds for expulsion. This is culling of the student body by religion and life style, in a school receiving about a half million dollars of public funds per year!

Many of the schools I mentioned above, are considered great public and/or great private schools. Creaming and culling really do pay off in terms of a school’s reputation, as long as the schools’ policies are not examined too closely. But Dr. Casanova asked an excellent question of our citizenry when she reported on the graduation rates of various charters and private schools, and compared them to the reports from San Luis High School, in San Luis, AZ, on the Mexican border, part of the Yuma, Arizona school system. Data from different sources informs us that in recent years this public high school serves almost 3,000 students a year, almost 100% of whom are Hispanic, half of whom are limited English proficient, and most are classified as economically disadvantaged. But this public high school manages to graduate over 80 percent of their freshman class, and almost 90 percent of its senior class. They also do this with a teacher/pupil ratio well in excess of the U.S. average, and working with Arizona’s per pupil school funding formula, which is among the lowest in the nation. Why isn’t San Luis High School, and others like it, compared to the culling and creaming charters and voucher schools, considered among our great American high schools?

So many of our public schools deserve our gratitude for doing such a good job educating all our citizenry, many under difficult conditions. The Darwinian approach, to push the weakest students out of school, to cull the herd, should not be tolerated in a democracy, and therefore is absolutely inappropriate behavior for a school receiving public money. But Darwinism really is the philosophy guiding some of the highest rated charters. A respondent to a blog by my colleague Gene Glass, where he too criticized the culling and creaming practices of charters, stated the following: “Basis schools does not engage in any form of thinning across any grade. Students do drop out because they are not fit to thrive in the difficult curriculum ….”

Let’s think about what “not fit to thrive” might look like as a guiding philosophy for our public schools. We could do away with special education, bilingual education, counseling and guidance, transportation, free and reduced breakfasts and lunches, school nurses, etc. The Darwinian approach to schooling is not merely undemocratic,….. it is evil! If it were me, I wouldn’t give another public dollar to any charter or voucher school that culls, skims, or creams. They are all patently undemocratic.

David C. Berliner
Regents’ Professor Emeritus
Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College
Arizona State University

Day 2 of CTU strike will bring educators, allies to City Hall at 1:30 pm

Some movement at bargaining table Thursday, but no agreement on special ed needs, classroom overcrowding, salary floor for low-wage teaching assistants, staffing shortages.

CHICAGO—Educators and frontline staff will hit the picket lines for a second day today, as rank and file union members attempt to bargain a fair contract for 25,000 CTU teachers, clinicians, teaching assistants and support staff. While some progress was made at the bargaining table Thursday, the union and CPS ramain far apart on efforts to reign in exploding class sizes and find a path to remedying dire shortages of school nurses, social workers, special education teachers and other critical staff.

Late this afternoon, CPS refused to discuss a proposal on special education needs with the expert special education teachers and clinicians at the table who had crafted the proposal, because not every CTU officer was present. The CTU’s 40+ member rank and file bargaining team must sign off on any tentative agreement to be sent to members for approval.

Today’s schedule: Thursday, Oct. 17

 

  • 1:30 p.m.: Mass rally and march, City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St. with CTU rank and file, grassroots community groups, CTU officers, elected officials, allies.

Fast facts:

  • The State’s new equity-based school funding formula is sending a billion-plus additional dollars each year to CPS to reduce sizes of chronically overcrowded classes, support students in poverty and increase services to special education students and English language learners.
  • CPS passed the largest budget in its history this year: $7.7 billion. Yet CPS cut the amount of dollars it is spending in school communities this year.
  • Juarez High School in Pilsen, which enrolls over 1,300 overwhelmingly low-income Latinx students, saw its school budget cut this year by $840,000, costing the school nine teaching and staff positions.
  • CPS cut the budgets of more than 200 CPS schools by at least $100,000, and cut the budgets of more than 40 schools by more than half a million dollars for this school year.
  • CTU educators are fighting for better wages, smaller class sizes, adequate staffing, and educational justice for students and their families. They want the additional state revenue CPS receives to increase equity to go to school communities and student needs.
  • Almost half of CPS’ students are Latinx. Yet the district has acute shortages of ELL teachers—teachers for English language learners—and is severely short of bilingual social workers. Bilingual education services are chronically short of both educators and resources—a key issue at the bargaining table.
  • CPS is desperately short of school nurses, social workers, librarians, special education teachers, ELL teachers and more. CPS has staffing ratios three to five times higher than those recommended by national professional organizations and best practices. Fewer than 115 school nurses serve over 500 schools. Most schools have a nurse only one day a week.
  • One out of four schools has a librarian—and that number falls to barely one in ten for Black-majority schools. A decade ago, most schools had a librarian.
  • CPS is desperately short of social workers and special education teachers, even as CPS is under the oversight of a state monitor for shortchanging its diverse learners.
  • This year, more than 1,300 CPS classes are overcrowded under CPS’ own high class caps, up from more than a thousand overcrowded classrooms last year.
  • Almost 25% of elementary students attend overcrowded classes, with some kindergarten classes topping 40 students. Roughly 35% of high school students are enrolled in overcrowded classes; at schools like Simeon, virtually every core class is overcrowded, with math, social studies and world language classes topping 39 students.
  • The CTU’s school clerks and teaching assistants earn wages as low as $28,000/year—so low the children of two-thirds qualify for free and reduced lunch under federal poverty guidelines. Over 1,100 cannot afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment at prevailing rent rates in ANY zip code in the city. In year 5 of the mayor’s proposed contract, most of those workers would still be earning poverty wages. And in the last ten years, NO CTU member’s wages have kept pace with the inflation rate.
  • Candidate Lightfoot ran on a platform calling for equity and educational justice—including a nurse, a social worker and a librarian in every school—all proposals her negotiating team has rejected at the table. She also ran in support of an elected, representative school board—but moved to stall that legislation in the Illinois Senate after she was elected.
  • CPS has said it has budgeted to improve staffing shortages, but refuses to put those commitments in writing in an enforceable contract. The union wants those promises in writing, in an enforceable contract—the only way we have to hold CPS and the 5th floor to their promises.

 

Veteran teacher Arthur Goldstein writes here about New York state’s cruel indifference to educating non-English-speaking students.

He writes:

President Trump commits outrages against humanity by separating newcomers from their families, leaving them without soap, blankets or toothbrushes. New York State would never do things like that. We’re more enlightened. Instead of depriving young immigrants of physical necessities, we simply decline to them their most fundamental educational need—instruction in English…

State officials, he asserts, decided to give ELL students less direct instruction in English, expecting they would pick up English in their regular subject classes.

This way, while native English speakers take 45 minutes to learn about the Battle of Gettysburg, newcomers would somehow learn not only about the battle, but also all the necessary vocabulary and culture in the same 45 minutes. Having less direct English instruction would somehow support this.

How would they accomplish this? I spoke face to face with NY Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia, who told me they would use “strategies and techniques.” You could’ve knocked me down with a feather. I’ve been teaching ESL for three decades. I know strategies and techniques. However, I don’t know of any that compensate for lack of time.

State officials, he writes, have cut ESL classes by 33-100%, then they wonder why ELLs are not succeeding.

Imagine how you’d feel if you went to China tomorrow, and they sat you in classes with almost no instruction in Chinese language. That would mirror official NY State policy. It’s a disgrace, in 2019, that we can’t do better. In NY State, we may not practice outright xenophobia, but our support for newcomers is dubious at best.

Did you know that DeVos wants to scrap the Office of English Language Acquisition by folding it into the much larger Office of Elementary and Secondary Education? OESE is one of the major subdivisions of the Education Department. Making such a change would likely require a Congressional approval, but DeVos hopes to skip that step, which she would be (should be) unlikely to get. Congress may not be as enthusiastic about Trump’s war on immigrants as Trump and DeVos. After this administration, the Republican party will be redefined as the party that is hostile to immigrants, specifically Hispanics, who are the largest beneficiaries of the Office of English Language Acquisition programs and services.

Jan Resseger writes about this bureaucratic maneuver here, which few people are aware of other than advocates for the students served.

A teacher in a big-city district in New York, posted this note on his Facebook page. I can’t give you the link because the teacher requested anonymity for fear of reprisals even though he plans to retire at the end of this academic year.

The post says:

I haven’t taught a class in over a month. I’ve been administering various tests– English, math, and the test for my field–the NYSESLAT. This morning I was giving the second of four parts of the NYSESLAT test to a bilingual class of third graders. It’s the New York state test for English proficiency. It takes roughly 3 1/2 hours for a child to complete. It was the first listening, reading and writing component of the test. A student who came to my school on the second day I started NYSESLAT testing, from Puerto Rico, had to take the test. I haven’t had the chance to spend any time with him because I’ve been giving tests. Nonetheless, he had to take this test. After he did the first two parts of the test before I read the instructions, he passed me this note.

At the bottom of his post there is a note that says, “mister no English.” It is accompanied by four hand-drawn faces with tears streaming from their eyes and downturned mouths, the opposite of smiley faces.

The American Civil Liberties Union issued a blistering report about the charter industry in Arizona, claiming that charters choose their students, instead of the other way around.

The title of the report is Schools Choosing Students: How Arizona Charter Schools Engage in Illegal and Exclusionary Student Enrollment Practices and How It Should Be Fixed

The 26-page report begins:

In the 1990s, Arizona became one of the nation’s rst adopters of charter schools. The vision was to give parents more academic choices for their children and to provide learning environments more tailored to students’ individual needs. In many cases, however, Arizona’s charter school program has had the opposite result: Charter schools are choosing students who fit their mold.

Indeed, more than two decades after charter schools emerged in Arizona, admission policies and procedures at many of the state’s charter schools unlawfully exclude some students or create barriers to their enrollment. Many schools have been able to get away with exclusionary practices for years without accountability.

Though charter schools operate independently, they are part of Arizona’s
public education system and use taxpayer funds. As such, they are required to “enroll
all eligible pupils who submit a timely application.”1 If more students apply than
can be accommodated, schools can randomly select students through a lottery system.2

Arizona charter schools are also forbidden from discriminating against students on the basis of “ethnicity, national origin, gender, income level, disabling condition, proficiency in the English language or athletic ability.”3

But an analysis of Arizona charter schools’ enrollment materials shows many schools have policies and procedures that are clearly illegal or exclusionary. Speci cally, out of the 471 Arizona charter schools that were analyzed,
at least 262, or 56 percent, have policies that are clear violations of the law or that may discourage the enrollment of certain students.

Do you think that Betsy DeVos cares? Will the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights take action to reduce and eliminate illegal discrimination?

Arthur Goldstein is a veteran high school teacher of English and English as a Second Language.

He warns here that New York State is harming students whose native language is not English by reducing the time allotted to teaching them English. He calls on the State Board of Regents to reverse this policy.

“High school can be rough. Our children and students are frequently insecure, uncertain, and grasping to find their way in a new and unfamiliar environment. Some students have to deal with not only that, but also the fact that they don’t speak English.

“For most English Language Learners (ELLs), one safe haven has been their English classroom, where a teacher understood their special needs and made sure no one made fun of their inevitable errors and struggles with a new language. But the most recent revision of Commissioner’s Regulation Part 154, which governs how English as a second language (ESL) instruction is distributed, has largely withdrawn that support system. For example, beginning ELLs who formerly took three classes daily in direct English instruction may now have as few as one.

“Instead of ESL classes, New York State purports to blend English instruction into other courses. For example, in the daily 40 minutes that an United States-born student has to study, say, the Civil War, ELLs are expected to study both the Civil War and English. So not only do they get less English instruction, but they also get less instruction in history than native speakers. Principals may see it as a win-win. They can dump ESL classes, add nothing, save money, and hope for the best.

“I don’t know about you, but if I went to China tomorrow, I’d want intense instruction in Mandarin or Cantonese before I ever attempted opening a history book. I want the best for my students, and that includes as much English instruction as possible. Expecting children to master history before being able to order a pizza or even introduce themselves is remarkably short-sighted, reflecting total ignorance of language acquisition.”

Mike Klonsky reports that most schools in Chicago are violating the right of English language learners to mandated services they need.

The worst violators, naturally, were charter schools.

Fifteen were run by the UNO Network of Charter Schools; nine were run by the Noble Network of Charter Schools. (One of the Noble Network schools is named for its patron, Governor Bruce Rauner.)

In 2009, U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras lifted the consent decree ending three decades of efforts to integrate Chicago schools. The decree’s bilingual education provisions, according to Kocoras, duplicated protections in state law. The ruling came despite evidence presented by DOJ lawyers in court that the district repeatedly failed to enroll English learners in bilingual education fast enough or provide them with required services.

I would be remiss if I failed to point out once again, that it was former schools CEO Arne Duncan who successfully pushed Judge Kocoras to abandon the consent decree. Thousands of the district’s English language learners and their families are still paying the price.