Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Quality Education in the First Language DOES Make a Difference!

I live in California where "bilingual education" is a no-no.

For the life of me, I can't see any logic here since the more education you have in your home language makes everything else accessible. When I studied in France (study abroad program under the City University of New York), I did well because I already good reading and writing skills already in place in English. For me, it was a matter of tweaking my writing style to conform to theirs. Reading skills in English assisted me in navigating unfamiliar text and so on. When my son studied at UNAM (Mexican University), he arrived with excellent skills in English. With those skills, he was in a position to fully benefit from his study abroad experience in that he could exceed the limits of textbook studies and truly get to experience Mexican culture through the many friends he made there.

Now, back to 2010. I teach ELD/ESL in a high school in California. Though the class sizes are small, I have only 2 students operating on grade level expectations for content classes (math, science, social studies). They left their homelands with grades of 9 and 10 (out of 10 with ten being an A). The transfer speed of material from L1 to English subject demands is a joy to watch. I see myself and my son here in the same scenario. These 2 students will be leaving ELD shortly and going into mainstream classes where most teachers have the needed skills to differentiate so that ELLs will be able to learn the content with some adjustments on the part of the teacher. So, what about the other students I have? Therein lies the problem.

The vast majority of my students come to my class with gaping holes in their L1 education. Some have had as little as only 3 years of school in their native lands. Some arrive at 17 with very little formal school experience. Graduation? Not a realistic expectation here. This group is the most challenging and to have to try to fill in the holes with a language that they don't know so that the most basic skills can be learned is extremely difficult to say the least. Then there are those who have been in ELD programs since kindergarten and still can't function in school for a myriad of reasons. Why are they still "ELL"? That is a 100 million question which all districts are struggling with and no clear solution has surfaced to date.

So why do schools not bring quality bilingual programs back into schools? Through our CLAD (Cross Cultural Language Acquisition Development certificate) and BCLAD (Bilingual Cross Cultural Language Acquisition certificate) bilingual teachers would be easily able to cover those classes. Further, a state set of language standards for Spanish, Vietnamese, etc. could be created to ensure that all students in bilingual programs received a uniform quality education in their languages. Benchmarks could be established which would enable BCLAD teachers to do ongoing monitoring of their students' progress. Ongoing state assessments of student progress would determine how well schools are doing in building that L1 background. Highly successful schools would be rewarded with money, grants, dream equipment, additional support staff, etc. Failing schools could be teamed up with universities for guidance in turning their poor results around.

With a solid L1 educational background, we would be sending truly academically prepared students into those mainstream classes. Graduation rates would probably rise and more students might start going to college.

What do you think of bilingual programs?


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