It is that complex (American Institutes for Research, 2006, pages V2-3).
Only recently (2008), the U.S. Department of Education has proposed mandates under Title 3 of the Elementary Secondary Education Act/NCLB, which concerns English learners, that California is requesting relief from. Bottom line of these mandates is that they will cost significant sums of money and time to implement and further complicate the most sophisticated EL program in the country (ACSA, 2008).
In a 381-page report prepared for the California Board of Education in 2004, American Institutes for Research reached the following conclusions regarding the affectivity and success of the EL program in the state of California as mandated by Proposition 227:
Meeting the Needs of California ELs. "While we see evidence of improved academic success with ELs in California, substantial gaps in achievement remain" (American Institutes for Research, 2006, p. VII-1). The study indicated strongly that the special needs of ELs in California were not being met. It pointed out that most ELs are poor, and that they face the challenge of learning English and their school courses at the same time. With California's high academic standards, the report made it clear that there is much work to be done in these areas for ELs to have an optimum learning environment.
The Bottom Line. The question is if it was wise to enact Prop. 227, and has it been effective? Does it compare favorable with bi-lingual methods? The answer, from the AIR report:
"Very little evidence can be found in the empirical analyses conducted during this study that its basic premise was correct (i.e., that immersion methods of instruction are
uniformly superior to bilingual methods in enhancing educational outcomes for ELs). It is not possible to unambiguously resolve the question of the relative superiority of immersion vs. bilingual approaches given the shifting definitions associated with various instructional approaches for ELs in state data over the years, and the inability to track individual student-level data over time. Nevertheless, the best analyses we have been able to conduct given data limitations indicate that differences across models of instruction -- holding constant such critical factors as student demographics -- are minimal or nonexistent" (American Institutes for Research, 2006, p. VII-2).
Further, the extensive report stated:
"...based on our overall achievement findings, we conclude that Proposition 227 focused on the wrong issue... A new paradigm, shifting away from the immersion/bilingual debate, is needed to focus more on the larger array of factors that make a difference for EL achievement" (American Institutes for Research, 2006, p. VII-3).
We will return to this study's recommendations later.
Evaluating Bi-Lingual Methods
The second study results presented here involved the bi-lingual classroom education of ten Cambodian students who spoke no English (Obudo, 2007).
These students attended a large, urban school in Southern California in the 1980s, prior to the passage of Proposition 227 and the mandate of English-immersion. Their prior schooling ranged from zero to five years. Since we are using these ten students as a random sample of how the bi-lingual program worked, we must note that all ten were placed in English-only classes with instructors who were not trained to teach English Language Learners. All of the students were moved from class to class within the same school year in an attempt to find the grade level that they fit best. They received little or no language support. That is, the instructors were not proficient in teaching these students the English language.
Now, at this point, we might say, well, what's the point? The point is that these circumstances occurred more frequently than we think with bi-lingual classroom education. Remember, the point was to place students in "normal" classrooms and have them learn English by osmosis and with as much help as possible by teachers who had 30 other students to teach.
And, according to Rhodes, Ochoa, and Ortiz (2005), "...only 19 states provided certification or endorsement for teachers in the field of bi-lingual education, and only 17 legally mandate this training be provided" (Rhodes, Ochoa, & Ortiz, 2005, p. 60). They further report that a signficant number of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students in this country is not being taught by certified ESL and bi-lingual teachers.
The Bottom Line. All the participants had difficulty understanding the lessons, leading to frustration and lack of confidence. The research on immersion vs. bi-lingual education is inconclusive. For every study that supports one or the other, there is another, usually just as valid, that does not support it. Obudo concludes that it is not the system used that counts, but the quality of instruction -- basically the same general conclusion that AIR came to in its far more extensive research on Proposition 227.
After test results showed that English learners in California had made "negligible progress in mastering English since last year," on May 2, 2009, California State Senator Gloria Romero, Chair of the State Committee on Education, said, "the California Department of Education can't keep doing the same things and expect different results" (Romero, 2009). This becomes just further confirmation that it is a complex problem, and positive results are not easy, politics aside.
It also casts more doubt on the affectivity of Proposition 227.
AIR endorses the following recommendations to the California Department of Education: (American Institutes for Research, 2006, pp. VII5-12).
The state should identify school sites and districts that are successfully educating ELs at all grade levels, and create opportunities for their educational peers to learn from them.
The state should take steps to standardize and clarify alternative instructional program waiver provisions of Proposition 227.
The state should focus monitoring efforts to ensure that language status does not impede full, comprehensible access to core curriculum.
The state and districts should foster data use to guide EL policy and instruction.
District leaders need to ensure that their plan of instruction for ELs is carefully articulated across classes within grades, across grades within schools, and across schools within the district.
The state and districts should support the professional development necessary to promote ELs' English language development and academic achievement, ensure appropriate deployment of skilled teachers to schools where they are most needed, and foster development of English Language Development (ELD) curriculum and instructional plans aligned to the state's ELD standards.
The legislature should clarify Community-Based English Tutoring (CBET) goals, and continue funding with ongoing evaluation.
The state should continue English Language Acquisition Program (ELAP) funding with added flexibility.
San Joaquin Valley Learner's Academy
Recognizing the failure of Proposition 227 to carry out the mission of educating ELs, the San Joaquin Valley's school districts have come together with a program called the English Learner's Academy to ensure ELs have the resources to obtain "native-like" English skills while they also develop academic language necessary to completely access core content.
The reason they are developing this Academy is that they feel California school districts are focusing on ELs learning English to their own detriment. The idea is that the ability to grasp and successfully pass core content courses is equally as important as learning English. Data in California has shown that, by focusing more heavily on English competency and reaching a certain competency level, students capability and desire to keep going and to conquer core courses dissipates (Central Valley Educational Leadership Institute, 2009).
The incorrect assumption of Prop. 227 and of school districts who follow it is that teaching English to some early advanced level is all that is necessary to assure the student of academic success, and that ignoring actual academic core subject achievement during that time is OK.
Furthermore, students are often redesignated fluent at this arbitrary point and, while law requires monitoring academic progress for 2 years, usual practice is that all support ends upon redesignation. Thus, by ending language and academic supports too early, the failure to achieve the twin goals is understandable but not excusable (Central Valley Educational Leadership Institute, 2009, p. 9).
By utilizing the good works that a few school districts are accomplishing in the area of teaching ELs, San Joaquin hopes to formulate a program which will accomplish its dual objectives. They already know how students learn English and attain academic success, and understand that failure to attain those two goals comes from a lack of a thorough plan to achieve them.
Their ultimate plan will include three integral functions: appropriate instruction, early intervention and support to ensure ELs can achieve at both basic and advanced levels in all
areas, full participation in arts and extra-curricular activities in order to obtain a well-rounded education (Central Valley Educational Leadership Institute, 2009)
The continued focus on successful implementation of Proposition 227 and the redesignation of ELs, must be on allowing the individual school district, school, and principal the flexibility to adapt their own circumstances to best fit the intention of the immersion agenda.
It will also be inherent in this allowed flexibility at the…