Lois Foraker asked her preschool students at Glenwood Springs Elementary School of Glenwood Springs, CO to gather around the table in the middle of the classroom Thursday morning. A cartoonish red gift with yellow ribbon was in the center of the table and had the students wondering what it could possibly hold. The gift held red book bags given to the kids through the Raising A Reader program. In each of the bags students received two English language books, one bilingual book and a Spanish language book to also encourage bilingual education.
I have taught English as a Second Language for nearly 20 years. I've taught ESL to students from more than 100 different countries and who spoke more than 120 different first languages. In education, we call these students Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students. Unfortunately, this simple fact also puts these children "at risk" — at risk for dropping out, at risk for failing, at risk for "falling through the cracks." For the LEP student, it is paramount to become aware early on that having two languages will eventually be to their advantage.
Three years ago, when their daughter, Ellie, was about to enter first-grade, Gini Petersen and Jon Schnorr made a choice about the way she would be educated. The couple, who live Forest Grove's Old Town neighborhood, enrolled their daughter at Echo Shaw Elementary School in Cornelius so she could learn in both English and Spanish. These bilingual classes could be threatened if Ballot Measure 58, which seeks to restrict bilingual education in Oregon's public schools, passes in next month's general election.
Arizona State University Assistant Professor Margarita Jimenez-Silva has worked in the classroom teaching English-language learners and more recently has been preparing future teachers to work with ELL students and researching the topic. She said there are many ELL experts across the nation skeptical of the new approach Arizona has adopted for teaching ELL this school year: Four hours per day of intensive English grammar, reading and writing.
Researchers from universities in Anakara, Turkey, have developed a system to enable learning English by messages on mobile phones. Experts claim this method to be more effective than other teaching methods.
What is the best method to teach English to non-native speakers? That question is at the heart of growing debate over Ballot Measure 58, the so-called bilingual education ban, which appears on Oregon's November ballot. The measure, according to the Division of Elections, would officially prohibit teaching public school students languages other than English for more than two years.
More than 2,500 students whose first language is not English will be targeted for academic assistance under a $15 million state grant announced for the Buffalo Public Schools. The district plans to hire Burmese, Arabic, Somali and Spanish-speaking teacher aides, add social workers and guidance counselors for English language learners, train teachers and add some Saturday programs.
Maggie Cleland, a graduate theater student, teaches adults English as a second language in Arlington, Virginia. Recently she turned the real-life stories of her students into an ensemble theater piece titled "Beyond the Simple Present, " which captures some of the true experiences Maggie Cleland's students have encountered as immigrants' adapting to life in the U.S. The play recounts their stories as they learn English and reshape their identities in a new country.
Education issues are poised to break through the din of presidential politics and economic anxiety in more than a dozen states next month, as voters confront ballot questions and constitutional amendments involving K-12 policy and school finance. High on the list are gambling referendums in six states, but aside from the gambling measures, some of the most contentious ballot questions may be in Oregon, where voters are being asked to put strict limits on bilingual education and tie teacher pay raises explicitly to classroom performance.
Sandra Tsing Loh, a writer and a performer, writes, "Ah, bilingual education. The neat grid of classrooms, the immigrant children, the dedicated teachers, the various language theories. The lab is all so sterile. The debate is over theory and where to apply government dollars. Like experimental lab rats, America's English-learning children seem to dwell in their own separate colony."