teach students who first language is not English continues to be one of the most contested and misunderstood issues facing educators in the U.S. today. Two main educational philosophies and lines of research prevail. Proponents of dual language education assert that the long-term education of students benefits from a bilingual approach primarily because it facilitates cognitive development and is, thereby, a better method to address an achievement gap (Jost, 2009). The opposing educational camp argues that students whose first language is not English should be given support in their first language through bilingual education, but only for a short time (Jost, 2009). The watershed for these two approaches appears to be a long-term focus vs. A short-term focus (Jost, 2009).
The policy problem associated with English as second a language academic programs is fundamentally two-fold: To address the need for acceleration of the development of English language skills and linguistic preparation for grade-level academic content. Agreement about the policy problem itself is widespread, but implementation continues to bedevil policy makers and policy implementers. Indeed, several substantive issues have emerged and have been identified as policy implementation problems. Foremost among the implementation challenges is that most statewide student performance assessments are carried out in English, and important sanctions and inevitable scrutiny can result from poor standardized assessment results (Clark, 2009). This situation creates an exigency to which schools and district are compelled to respond by attempting to accelerate ELL student progress toward English proficiency.
A second substantial implementation problem is manifested by the stalled progress of a "burgeoning subpopulation of ELL students" after several years of instruction (Clark, 2009). A recurrent and pervasive pattern occurs for some ELL students, who upon reaching intermediate levels of English competence, fail to make additional progress (Clark, 2009). The language related academic performance of many ELL students indicates that while students are being taught in English, they are not being taught the English language (Clark, 2009). Typical intermediate-level ELL scores are well below the proficient level on statewide tests (Clark, 2009). In consideration of these policy implementation problems, four approaches to educating English language learners (ELL) are compared and critiqued below.
The essential consideration is the determination of the most effective approach to accomplishing three goals for ELL students: (1) Facilitating the ability to achieve high levels of academic thinking; (2) promoting the learning of strong language arts skills in English; and (3) propelling acquisition of English language acquisition in a nation that does fully embrace bilingualism. Linguists and cognitive researchers argue for programs that enable ELL students to learn and think in their first languages (Judson & Garcia-Dugan, 2004). Theoretically and practically, programs that facilitate this approach provide an optimal learning environment for students who seek to become bilingual (Krashen, et al., 2007). Social, economic, and political pressures bring about a change in trajectory of academic programs that permit ELL students to continue receiving instruction in their first languages. Moreover, in the long-term, programs for ELL students can abruptly shift course without adequate transitions, thereby leaving ELL students without adequate learning support or comprehensible instruction (Krashen, et al., 2007). These shifts in academic and language programs are invariably driven by periodic changes in political and social culture, with the changes subsequently cemented by the economic environment and associated allocation / redistribution of resources (Judson & Garcia-Dugan, 2004).
A growing body of research on instructing ELL students points to successful programs in which cultural and ethnic aspects of ELL students' lives are integrated into the curriculum and instruction. A focus on diversity in education policy and practice has led to different ways of envisioning education -- both for ELL students and for students for whom English is a first language. The following summary of the contemporary experiences in Tucson School District serves as a case study of successfully culturally competent academic programs.
When Mexican-American Studies department was shuttered by the Tucson School District in January 2012, copies of Pedagogy of the Oppressed were removed from classrooms, sent to a warehouse, and then later disbursed to the district's libraries (Santos, 2012). Paulo Freire's seminal work on literacy and empowerment was considered too inflammatory for Mexican-American students to read (Santos, 2012). Seven other books, including Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuba, were also stricken from the reading list (Santos, 2012). Pressure to revamp multicultural studies in the Tucson school district came from two arenas. For decades, Tucson School District has been under federal oversight because of a discrimination suit brought by Hispanic and black parents and students. The district is under orders to provide a plan to correct its long-standing discrimination against students of color. Advancing on the other flank is the Arizona legislature, which enacted a law in 2010 that banned curricula determined to foster racial resentment and solidarity among members of a single ethnic group (Santos, 2012). What seems to have been missed in all the political wrangling and brouhaha was the exceptional performance of the 800 students enrolled in the Mexican-American studies department. On Arizona's state standardized tests, this group of Mexican-American students outperformed their peers by 45 percentage points in reading, by 59 percentage points in writing, and by 33 percentage points in math (Santos, 2012). An audit that cost Tucson Schools $110,000 found that 97.5% of the students who went through the Mexican-American studies program graduated. Proponents of the Mexican-American studies department argue that -- given the improved standardized test scores -- the program should have been expanded rather than eliminated (Santos, 2012).
Districts find that it a substantive challenge to maintain strong supports and resources for immersion and bilingual students in the middle and upper grades. The loss of second language proficiency that is noted elsewhere in this paper is strongly associated with the lack of articulation of programs into and through the post-secondary school years (Fortune & Tedick, 2011). An important component of this challenge is the difficulty of identifying, recruiting, hiring, and keeping teachers and administrators who are well prepared and highly qualified for the unique educational context of programs for English Language Learners (Fortune & Tedick, 2011). It is a rare combination to find a teacher in the United States who is certified to teach subject matter courses and who also has developed a sufficient level of second language proficiency to teach in non-English contexts (Fortune & Tedick, 2011). Moreover, educators and parents are often hard-pressed to find, afford, and implement research-based practices and policies for English Language Learners and also for those students who have difficulty learning due to disability. Immersion programs may be short on resources and not be staffed with the specialists that they need in order to provide appropriate levels of instructional support, comprehensive and meaningful assessment, and evidence-based interventions (Fortune & Tedick, 2011).
Experts theorize that it takes between four to seven years of English language study for English learners to become sufficiently proficient in the language and to be successful in academic endeavors (Jost, 2009). There is considerable pressure from school systems for bilingual students to be pulled out of class in order to learn English more quickly. Implementation is a concern, as well, since reports of children not receiving English instruction seem to surface regularly. A good balance for developing proficiency in English as a second language and mastering academic subjects is difficult to achieve -- in the short-term (Jost, 2009).
Bilingual education was put to the voters in California with Proposition 227 in 1998 (Haas, 2009). The anti-bilingualism bill, referred to as the Umz Initiative, passed by a margin of 61% to 39% (Haas, 2009). Regardless, many people continue to believe that bilingualism is a necessary approach that can be used -- albeit temporarily -- to rapidly improve the language acquisition of English Language Learners (Haas, 2009). Opponents of bilingualism continue to believe that English is the national language, and that letting students speak another language until they are proficient in English hinders their academic learning and their language acquisition (Haas, 2009). If, in fact, all education were to take place in English only, then a possible solution would be "remedial" classrooms or even schools where English Language Learners would be taught English before they join the rest of the English-speaking student body and are exposed to the general curriculum (Haas, 2009). In effect, this approach would deny children who are English Language Learners from accessing the same education as their native English-speaking peers (Haas, 2009). Bilingual education continues to be a viable approach to educating students, regardless of their native language (Haas, 2009).
One of the fundamental problems with bilingual education and English-as-a-second-language instruction is the difficulty of conceptualizing the instruction of English as an academic subject (Haas, 2009). As such, bilingual education may be less robust than it academic subject correlates -- and students may not experience the same high expectations in their bilingual education classes as they are likely to encounter in a class that focuses on a discrete academic subject (Haas, 2009). A substantive opportunity exists to change --…