My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Many L.A. students not moving out of English language classes

Note from Catherine: Given the interest in the topic of ELL in Amherst on my blog, I'm posting this story. Thanks to Abbie for alerting my blog readers to this story, which also was heard on NPR.

Los Angeles Times
By Anna Gorman
October 29, 2009

Almost 30% of those placed early on in such programs in L.A. Unified were still in them when they started high school, study says. The sooner students moved on, the more they excelled.

Nearly 30% of Los Angeles Unified School District students placed in English language learning classes in early primary grades were still in the program when they started high school, increasing their chances of dropping out, according to a new study released Wednesday.

More than half of those students were born in the United States and three-quarters had been in the school district since first grade, according to the report by the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at USC.

The findings raise questions about the teaching in the district's English language classes, whether students are staying in the program too long and what more educators should do for students who start school unable to speak English fluently.

"If you start LAUSD at kindergarten and are still in ELL classes at ninth grade, that's too long," said Wendy Chavira, assistant director of the policy institute. "There is something wrong with the curriculum if there are still a very large number of students being stuck in the system."

Researchers tracked the data on 28,700 students from the time they started sixth grade in 1999 until graduation in 2005. They found that students who were moved to mainstream classes by the time they were in eighth grade were more likely than students who remained in English language classes to stay in school, take advanced placement courses in high school and pass the high school exit exam.

Mary Campbell, who is in charge of English language learning programs at L.A. Unified, said students must learn English as well as the grade-level material to move into mainstream classes. That often takes longer than learning the language, she said.

"We are aggressively looking at supporting these longtime English learners to ensure that they get the support needed to reclassify in a timely manner," she said.

The vast majority of the students in the segregated language classes are not recent immigrants but rather U.S.-born youths, according to the study. Nearly 70% of all students ever placed in the English language learning program were born in the United States.

Previous studies have shown that English language learners generally score lower on standardized tests than their English-only classmates. Other studies have shown that students in English language classes are usually placed with less experienced teachers, focus on language skills rather than content and are segregated from students who speak English.

"The United States has never learned what is the best way to teach English to English learners," said Harry Pachon, president of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute. "That's really a shortcoming."

The sooner students switch to regular classes the better, the new study showed. Students who moved out of English classes by third grade scored up to 40 points higher on standardized tests than those who stayed in the classes. If the students moved by fifth grade, they scored about 10 points higher than their peers.

And in some cases, students who were in English learning programs and then moved out performed better than students in English-only classes.

All students who speak a second language at home must take a test to see whether they should be placed into classes for English learners. Once they are enrolled, they must take another test to get out. But Pachon said the process to get in is easier than it is to get out.

Though the study didn't determine why students were staying in English language programs for so long, researchers say schools may avoid moving English learners into mainstream classes to keep test scores high.


jm said...

I know very little about ELL but what does it take for people to admit that they are wrong? 10 to 12 years in ELL?? No, that's not enough.

Listen to "Mary Campbell, in charge of English language learning programs at L.A. Unified, said students must learn English as well as the grade-level material to move into mainstream classes. That often takes longer than learning the language, she said. "We are aggressively looking at supporting these longtime English learners to ensure that they get the support needed to reclassify in a timely manner," she said.

Anonymous said...

Again, those that stand to lose their jobs with the elimination of an extensive ELL program are justifying it.

I know many people who lived in foreign countries for various lengths of time during childhood and in none of those countries were they offered "French language learners" or "Portuguese language learners" but were simply thrown into the regular classroom with the kids who already spoke the language. They and their siblings caught on just fine, even though in many cases, their parents didn't speak the language either. The entire family learned quickly because they had to.

Does anyone who grew up abroad know of any other country that offers this sort of service (ELL) to their non-native-language speakers?

Anonymous said...

Catherine as you can see clusters are not illegal...why have you not commented on mr.pransky's article and FACTS!!!!

Clusters are not illegal; respectfully revisit redistricting
Published on November 13, 2009
Amherst was once a school system many communities with diverse populations envied. In the last couple of years, though, much has been abandoned. Especially with the changes being made in the name of redistricting, the heart and soul of our schools is shifting with regard to how we will go about educating some of our most vulnerable learners. And while reasonable people can differ on ideas, I fear these decisions have not been as transparent or informed as they should be and that the students and families most affected by these changes deserve.

One example concerns the end of our longstanding language and culture cluster programs. The School Committee and central administration have stated flatly on multiple occasions that they are illegal. Many of us tried to tell them that they are not illegal if done as English language learner programs.

We were not listened to. I thought, I'm not a lawyer, maybe I'm wrong. But I recently got a hold of a copy of the legal opinion from the firm of Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane that was sent to administration in response to their queries about the legality of our cluster programs. I quote directly from the opinion: "If the district believes that grouping its students based on their language of origin is the fastest, most effective way of teaching English, such a policy would be permissible but not preferable under (state law)."

Anonymous said...

2nd part of article......
An email from School Committee member Catherine Sanderson to me confirms that this is well understood by the committee (and thus by implication, the administration as well). Well, all our cluster programs - the Cambodian cluster, Latino cluster and Chinese cluster - are English language education programs. Thus, they are quite legal after all. One is left to draw one's own conclusion about the School Committee's and administration's unequivocal pronouncements about illegality.

Later in the opinion, the lawyer responded to a specific question about "the grouping of students by ethnic group who are fluent in English, and therefore not ELL students." We have no programs like that, so why that question? How could all this misinformation have gone unnoticed for so long, and repeated so often in public, accompanied by such a negative, accusatory tone? What is going on?

This whole process has been shocking, and tainted. I feel particularly bad for the parents who came out to plead for those programs at the public forums, only to be falsely told they were illegal. Given the clear legality of our language/culture cluster ELL programs, and now that the School Committee and administration know, I respectfully ask that they revisit their decision to end them.

But maybe the School Committee and administration do not believe that clustering is, in the words of the legal opinion, the "fastest, most effective way of teaching English."

There certainly can be ideological disagreements and that's fair - just be honest and say so. At least then, supporters have a chance to show MCAS, graduate rate and other data from our ELL programs' excellent 20-plus year track record that makes their case in support of the families that may not be able to advocate for themselves. The schools belong to our whole town, and we all deserve transparency and honesty about whatever agenda is driving decisions about them - certainly not least, the communities most affected.

As someone who served for 20 years in this district, often with populations of very struggling learners who were able to surmount many obstacles because of the support provided to them, I am sad about a lot of what is going on now.

I also wonder why teacher voices are increasingly unheeded in this district, especially in these times when their perspective is so badly needed.

That is one of the saddest things of all.

Ken Pransky has been teaching in the ESL field for more than 30 years, 20 of those as a teacher at Fort River school. For the last couple of years he has been on leave, doing teacher consulting and training in districts across the state, specializing in ESL and student underachievement issues

Joel said...

Hi Anon 7:42

Catherine posted the article on her blog two post below the one to which you responded. She includes the legal clarification of when clusters are in fact illegal. It's all there. Just go to the main page of this blog and scroll down to the article you cite. It includes Catherine's comments and further commentary.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

JM - yes, this seems amazing to me ... particularly given the very high % of kids in ELL programs who were born in the US!

Anonymous 6:32 - great point re. people who are invested in maintaining programs that employ them. And good point re. what other countries do -- hard to imagine the system we use in Amherst being used elsewhere in the world.

Anonymous 7:42/7:43 - I am sure it is fun to level an anonymous critique at me -- perhaps you should just review my blog in a bit more detail before making such an accusation.

Joel - thank you for explaining the content of my blog to Anonymous 7:42/7:43.

Anonymous said...


i don't think it is "fun to level an anonymous critique at me"
but as a public official YOU NEED TO ACCEPT CONTRUSTIVE CRITISM, without getting angry or sgooting are a public official and not everyone is going to agree with you....just learn to live with it!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Anon 7:09, yes, Dr. Sanderson is a public official. But she is going ABOVE AND BEYOND her official duties by maintaining this blog and responding to anonymous critics like you! Maybe you should learn to live with the idea that smart people who work hard with good and honest intentions on a volunteer basis deserve more respect than you. On top of it all, she is behind a movement that is improving our schools, improving transparency with the SC, and improving decision-making processes by relying on proven methods and data... what is wrong with that?

I sincerely hope that some of the cantankerousness on this blog doesn't make Prof. Sanderson and her colleagues get too discouraged. My family is rooting for the SC and Dr. Rodriguez. Amherst needs you. It is heartbreaking to live in a town that revolves around academics with weak public schools.

Anonymous said...

Hey annonymous November 18, 2009 7:09 AM

Learn how to spell/type and take a reading comprehension tutorial and then maybe you'll understand what Catherine said. Otherwise, go crawl back under your rock.

Rick said...

"Children who are English learners shall be educated through sheltered English immersion during a temporary transition period not normally intended to exceed one school year..."

MA Law, Chapter 71A: Section 4. English language education