The Politics and Programs of English Language Learning

Leanne Kuss

Writer’s comment: In English 104D, Writing in Education, the readings made me more aware of the programs and issues surrounding English Language Learners. As I learned about the existing programs, including English as a Second Language and bilingual education, I became interested in the disparity between the research and the existing policies regarding ELL. With the help of Dr. Fleischmann, I developed a focus that looks at how a local California school navigates the restrictions concerning ELL, the implications of research on the topic, and the needs of students. I researched the politics relating to ELL and what they could illuminate about current policies and then investigated how Holmes Junior High implements a program that both satisfies California law and strives to best support its English Language Learners. I am grateful to Dr. Fleischmann for providing the opportunity to perform such an exciting, relevant assignment.
—Leanne Kuss

Instructor’s comment: For this research paper, which asked students to analyze various points of view about a controversy in education and then take a stand, Leanne studied how schools with populations of English Language Learners negotiate the strictures of Proposition 227. Wanting to write about a local school’s efforts to accommodate these learners, yet concerned that the relatively homogenous Holmes Junior High School would not fairly represent the struggles of most schools to educate their ELL populations, Leanne crafted the paper as a dialogue between available research on how non-native speakers best acquire English in a public school setting and the efforts of Holmes to acculturate students and their families while respecting their backgrounds. Leanne’s thorough research and her muscular prose style resulted in a thoughtful and instructive piece, one that could and should inform the practices of other schools grappling with this issue.
—Anne Fleischmann, English Department

Los estudiantes que hablan poco o no inglés estan en peligro a causa de los factores políticos. How did you feel as you read that sentence? If you do not understand Spanish, you may have felt confused. You probably did not understand much. You may even have gotten frustrated. That was not a very effective way for me to convey ideas to you, was it? Actually, a large number of people in the United States could understand that sentence, as a large number of Americans speak Spanish as their native language. But in the classrooms of America, the students in that population feel the same confusion and frustration that many non-Spanish speakers might feel reading that sentence, only the students, along with others who comprise the 1.3 million non-English speaking students in California public schools, feel that way every day, in every class, with every lecture, and with every textbook. Communication is a vital component of education; using Spanish is not an effective method for educating a largely non-Spanish speaking audience about the situation of English Language Learners (ELLs). In the same way, using only English is not a very effective method for educating ELLs. We are then faced with the question of why we in California limit the use of primary languages and emphasize an English-only approach in the education of ELLs. To understand the ELL issue, one must appreciate that ELL is a topic infused with political issues and caught up in power wars; as the first sentence declares, “The students who speak little or no English are in peril because of political factors.” While the politicization of the ELL issue might obscure the straightforward evidence of the superiority of bilingual education programs, by examining the political influences, we can understand how these influences affect the management of English Language Learners, as well as how we can navigate the constraints these forces create to produce the best possible educational experience for ELLs. Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior High School in Davis, California, exemplifies educators’ best efforts to deal with the restrictions of English-only mandates and the needs of ELLs.
         Opponents of bilingual education submit several arguments in support of their cause. Opponents argue that young people can easily acquire a second language and therefore immersion and ESL programs are the best choice (Equality 20, Lessow-Hurley 47). Article 1, Section 300 of Proposition 227 states that “Young immigrant children can easily acquire full fluency in a new language, such as English, if they are heavily exposed to that language in the classroom at an early age” (CATESOL web site). In fact, current research shows that this “critical period” of easy language acquisition may be shorter than previously believed, extending not to adolescence but only to around age five (Lessow-Hurley 47). Researchers suggest that children that young are actually “acquiring a language as a native speaker might, and are not really second language learners at all” (Lessow-Hurley 48). Young children simply learn the second language as they are learning their first. The validity of the idea of a second language being easier to acquire at a young age is thus corrupted. Furthermore, these claims about the necessity not for bilingual education but primarily English instruction, “while purporting to be a rational and neutral interpretation of the evidence, …cynically ignore the massive amount of data refuting the ‘maximum exposure’ hypothesis” (CABE, Reclaiming 143). Merely immersing ELLs in an English-speaking school environment will not achieve their acquisition of English or school success.
         Opponents to bilingual education also argue that bilingual education discourages English language acquisition. Ron K. Unz, one of the best known supporters of the “English-only” Proposition 227, claims that children are not taught English in bilingual education programs (Equal 19). Others argue that students’ motivation to learn English is diminished when they are able to communicate and do their schoolwork in their native language (Miramontes, Nadeau, Commins 43). Furthermore, ways in which bilingual programs are funded discourage educators from reclassifying ELLs as capable of being mainstreamed, because the program receives funds only for students in the program (Martin 20). Harald G. Martin, a critic of bilingual education programs, writes that “if there ever was a disincentive to make a program work, this is it” (20). However, research clearly shows that maintenance of ELLs’ primary language actually facilitates academic achievement in English, mainstream classes (Nieto 194). Numerous studies back this conviction, attributing the greater success in acquiring English and in school in general to a number of factors. Continued use of the primary language allows students to continue functioning at their highest cognitive level as they learn English (Nieto 194, 195). Including the primary language in class validates students’ language and culture and results in higher self-confidence and thus greater learning (Nieto 193). Programs that involve the two languages also allow for more effective instruction aimed at English proficiency (Nieto 202). In contrast, ESL programs that almost exclusively use English tend to “concentrate on English grammar, phonics, and other language features out of context with the way in which real, day-to day language is used” (Nieto 202) fail to provide ELLs with actual and academic-level proficiency.
         Finally, opponents of bilingual education assert that learning a new language while learning and maintaining the first will lead to cognitive or linguistic confusion of the student (NRCIM 14). However, research has also confirmed that language confusion is not a real concern. Fluent bilinguals actually enjoy greater “mental flexibility, a superiority in concept formation, and a more diversified set of mental abilities” (NRCIM 14). Indeed, bilingual education has proven to assist ELLs to acquire English and succeed in classes instructed in English, as developed and maintained primary language skills and understanding transfer to English skills (Lessow-Hurley 66) and the use of primary language prevents interrupted cognitive development, as students who continue to use their primary language while learning English do not cease to function at their highest cognitive level or attain academic content.
         Overall, the arguments against bilingual education are not convincing. As Sonia Nieto, multicultural education expert, writes, “The fact is that bilingual education is generally more effective than other programs such as ESL alone, not only for learning content through the native language but also for learning English. This finding has been reiterated in many studies over the years” (Nieto 201-202). The Federal government has formally endorsed bilingual education as a necessary and effective method for handling the needs of ELLs through Title VII in 1968 and their Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs (OBEMLA) established within the U.S. Department of Education in 1974 (OBEMLA). Why then do certain people continue to oppose bilingual education as useful means of assisting and educating ELLs? Nieto asserts that “In spite of its sound pedagogical basis, bilingual education is above all a political issue because it is concerned with the relative power or lack of power of various groups in our society” (203). The controversy that has surrounded bilingual education stems not from true concerns about its effectiveness but from its political and cultural implications. Nieto further maintains that “Both [bilingual education’s] proponents and its opponents have long realized its potential for empowering traditionally powerless groups. Thus the issue is not whether bilingual education works but the real possibility that it might” (202-203). The opponents of bilingual education feel threatened by the changing definition of America in the face of increasing diversity. As “language is intimately linked to culture” (Nieto 189), groups that speak languages other than English become targets of these opponents’ attacks on departures from the traditional idea of America. The California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE) argues that “Opposition to bilingual education is located within a larger discourse on the dangers of cultural diversity to the integrity of the ‘American way of life’” (CABE, Reclaiming 141). As “coercive relations of power [between a dominant and a subjected group] have operated historically in educational settings” (144), the opposition to bilingual education represents attempts to resist change by members of the dominant culture. Unz himself declares that his push for an English-only policy is based upon the belief that “that is the American tradition” (Equal 20).
         This attitude towards diversity, here applied to linguistic diversity, is demonstrated in the disparate value placed on bilingualism possessed by different social groups. Nieto explains that “The prevailing view is that among culturally dominated groups, bilingualism is a burden; yet among middle-class and wealthy students, it is usually seen as an asset” (195). Judith Lessow-Hurley, author of The Foundations of Dual Language Instruction, concurs: “Few people question the value of additive bilingualism for English-speaking children. But controversy surrounds the idea of providing public school instruction for limited English proficient students in their native language while they learn English as a second language” (65). Researchers have provided some insight into this contradictory perception of bilingualism, drawing “a distinction between ‘folk’ and ‘elite’ bilingualism, referring to the social status of the bilingual group” (NRCIM 13). Society tends to respect individuals who speak the dominant language and master additional languages, while “immigrants and linguistic minorities who exist within the milieu of a dominant language that is not their own” suffer lack of respect and even scorn (NRCIM 12-13). These incongruent and biased attitudes about bilingualism often result in ELLs’ being stripped of their primary language while other students, maybe just down the hall, struggle to learn foreign languages (Nieto 195, Lessow-Hurley 65). It becomes evident that attitudes towards bilingual education are founded on biased cultural, social and political ideas. Controversy subsides when children of the dominant, English-speaking culture participate in two-way bilingual programs because they “would develop early fluency… and enhanced career options” (Nieto 203) but such bilingual benefits are denied ELLs, who often lose their fluency in their primary language as a result of ESL programs. Furthermore, programs that are least involved in the ELLs’ primary language and culture receive the most support; developmental bilingual education is heavily criticized while ESL is approved (Nieto 203). While the federal government asserts the potential value of bilingualism to both ELLs and the U.S. economy (OBEMLA), in this global marketplace of today, this potentially “greatest asset in the global economic competition” is still educated in such a way as to result in a drop-out rate above and an average academic and economical success below the norm (CABE, You Can’t Learn 3), to keep them in their subordinate socioeconomic position (Nieto 203). Thus, the ELL debate is one involving people’s convictions concerning America. Opponents of bilingual education desire to preserve the traditional European-American, English-speaking conception of America, while programs that empower language minorities (often oppressed groups) are supported by those who believe in a more inclusive idea of America that includes all of America’s components.
         With “language diversity… placed within a sociopolitical context” (Nieto 195) we can understand how the current ELL situation in California has developed and it implications. While the federal government has affirmed bilingual education through Title VII and established the OBEMLA to support bilingual education programs and research (OBEMLA), California has passed legislation that effectively outlaws this effective and important method of educating ELLs. Proposition 227 states that

Subject to the exceptions provided in Article 3 (commencing with Section 310), all children in California public schools shall be taught English by being taught in English. In particular, this shall require that all children be placed in English language classrooms. Children who are English learners shall be educated through sheltered English immersion during a temporary transition period not normally intended to exceed one year. Local schools shall be permitted to place in the same classroom English learners of different ages but whose degree of English proficiency is similar. Local schools shall be encouraged to mix together in the same classroom English learners from different native-language groups but with the same degree of English fluency. Once English learners have acquired a good working knowledge of English, they shall be transferred to English language mainstream classrooms. (Article 2, Section 305)

The law, with its one-year limit on English language classes, defies established research that proves it “takes 5 to 7 years or more” for ELLs to achieve “full academic proficiency in a second language” (Miromontes, Nadeau, and Commins 121; Nieto 204), meaning the ability to successfully perform academic mental tasks and schoolwork in the second language, rather than simple fluency that allows one to communicate in a simplified, daily-interaction manner (Nieto 325). The law further disregards all the previously discussed evidence that bilingual education is the best method for educating ELLs. The law fails to establish guidelines for the education of ELLs in English classes and allows for a wide span of ages and grade levels in the same class. Martha I. Jimenez, an opponent of the Proposition, points out that “there’s no provision specifically for content. So they can spend an entire year simply studying English, and then when they reemerge—or are put back into mainstream classrooms, [they] would be several years behind their peers of the same [grade and age]—and of course that’s a high incidence for drop-out” (Equal 31). While the law provides a “waiver” clause, the requirements to obtain a waiver are demanding (see Article 3) and include a rule that parents must petition for a waiver each year, effectively wiping out the waiver as a viable option for most ELLs (Equal 31). To borrow a statement from the 1974 Supreme Court case Lau vs. Nichols, “Students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education” when their special linguistic needs are not addressed” (qtd. in Nieto 200). Proposition 227’s scheme for educating ELLs blatantly does not take into account the varied and real needs of ELLs, and thus displays the attitude of desiring to deny minorities of their status in America, to deny the diversity of our society, and to enforce a false and damaging unity. Proposition 227 follows in the grand tradition of the dominant culture restricting the use of minority languages in order to compel cultural uniformity, akin to the subtractive bilingualism that was promoted during the waves of immigration in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and promoted by such Presidents as Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan (Nieto 192). The Proposition certainly reflects the same anti-immigrant sentiments expressed in the passage of California’s Proposition 187. When Unz proclaims English to be the most important language, vital for the success of the United States (Equal 19-21), he demonstrates that 227’s proponents espouse the idea that “assimilation = success” (Nieto 206). The research has disproved that formula, but in the perspective of the 227 supporters the results of English-only ELL education may be a success, as it continues to deny ELLs their culture and their right to an equal education.
         What course of action to pursue in such unfavorable conditions might seem unclear. California law forbids the excessive use of ELLs’ primary languages in school and hold educators and school officials personally responsible for carrying out the mandate:

Any school board member or other elected official or public school teacher or administrator who willfully and repeatedly refuses to implement the terms of this statute by providing such an English language educational option at an available public school to a California school child may be held personally liable for fees and actual damages. (Article 5, Section 320)

What can educators do in this situation? By studying the nature of the English-only argument and regulations, those who desire to see ELLs afforded the best education unfettered by cultural policing can forge a solution. The English-only camp is saturated with the view that cultural diversity must be staved off, immigrants must be assimilated, and subordinated groups must remain in their low position. English-only regulations neglect the special needs of ELLs, resulting from cultural differences, of which language is only one prominent representative. Therefore, educators can still work to serve ELLs by attending to the cultural, political, and power issues that constitute so much of the ELL issue. While they cannot assist ELLs through the use of the students’ primary languages and bilingual education, educators can address these other elements of the issue, working to affirm ELLs’ cultures, backgrounds, and worth as students. Educators can even obliquely affirm ELLs’ primary languages and thus further ELLs’ opportunity for academic success (Nieto 193). Such work in the interest of ELLs is exemplified in the actions of Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior High School, a moderately-sized local junior high school located in Davis, California (all information regarding Holmes was obtained from the Program Coordinator, Mary Kahn). Educators must act now to best serve ELLs within the English-only restrictions. This can be accomplished, as Holmes demonstrates, through affirming the students’ cultures and diversity, content-based instruction, addressing special cultural needs, making connections with the students’ community and parents, carefully monitoring students’ progress and status, and staffing mainstream classes with teachers trained in the issues and needs of ELLs.
         The Program for English Language Learners at Holmes is essentially an ESL program, as it uses English almost exclusively. While Holmes did have the same sort of program before the passage of Proposition 227, it is now by law held to the same restrictions regarding ELLs as all California schools, and while it may have had an easier time accommodating the requirements of 227, it serves as an excellent example of how schools may navigate the restrictions placed on ELL programs and the needs of ELLs. The program has several components. All ELLs take an English Language Development class that meets for one period out of the day. For students who may have difficulty in a mainstream class, who are “less than reasonably fluent,” an ESL Core program is offered, consisting of a sheltered science and a sheltered social science class (all students at Holmes take a Core curriculum, the same as the ESL Core, but with an English class instead of an ELD class). In the 2000-2001 school year, a total of 71 students participated in the program; 40 were in the ESL Core. The majority of ELLs at Holmes are Spanish-speakers. Reading classes are provided for students (ELL and native English speakers) who require extra help with literacy (often those ELLs who have problems with literacy in their primary language as well). A variety of other classes, in a range of levels, are provided to help address the various needs of all ELLs. ELLs are placed in three different ELD classes, which range from beginning to advanced; each of the classes spans a range of levels. ELLs “usually go up a couple of levels in one year” (Kahn). On average, ELLs are re-designated, that is, mainstreamed completely and declared equal to or better than a native English speaker, after 3.5 years. The curriculum is multicultural and content-based; the ELD curriculum is “Making Connections” from Hinley and Hinley. The program must, by law, seek to mainstream students expediently, but we shall see how Holmes still greatly supports the success of ELLs.
         Holmes employs a multicultural curriculum for its ELL program. Affirming the students’ cultures and diversity is essential in providing students with a positive vision of their place in society and in school. In programs that fail to affirm the cultures of their students, “the member of [these] social groups, as a result, come to believe that their education failure, rather than coming from their lowly esteemed social or cultural status, results from their natural inability” (Corson qtd. in Nieto 193). Angela L. Carrasquillo and Vivian Rodriguez, who address the fierce need to focus on helping ELLs in non-bilingual education programs, report that “Too often ‘different’ has been translated into ‘deficient’ or ‘less than’…the sad result is that many non-English speakers grow to believe this same myth” (13). Students can then lose the motivation and confidence to succeed academically. While multicultural education is good for all students, ELLs are particularly vulnerable to negative self-images based on their cultural differences. Holmes thus provides a necessary and mindful service to ELLs by attending to the needs that arise from their position at the edge of cultures as well as to their obvious educational needs. Holmes’ ELL classes regularly incorporate students’ cultures and backgrounds into the curriculum. Students may share their experiences as part of a lesson or the teacher may relate a lesson to students’ cultures. Mary Kahn related one example of the multicultural nature of the Holmes ELL program: “Say the class is reading a creation story, like a Native American one. Then she would ask the students what they had to say about it, what they thought or what their cultures said. Or they would write their own creation stories.” Thus ELLs receive an education that informs them of the diversity of cultures and worldviews in society and includes and affirms their own cultures. The multicultural education ELLs receive allows them to understand themselves as worthwhile human beings and students. The ELL program also ensures that the students receive schooling about the United States and the mainstream culture. The program thus fulfills what educational experts deem vital: “because power, knowledge, and resources are located in the norms of dominant cultures,” students need to be taught how to navigate the mainstream successfully as well as have their cultures affirmed to ensure a meaningful and effective education for them (Nieto 234). Multicultural education of course goes beyond content; Holmes demonstrates through its common use of cooperative learning, active student participation and peer tutoring how multicultural education must involve pedagogy as well as subject matter (Nieto 88, 303-305). Using appropriate pedagogy for ELLs further ensures their success in school (Lessow-Hurley 73-74; Carrasquillo & Rodriguez 91). Holmes’ excellent organization of its ELL program as a multicultural program sets an example for all ELL programs.
         Research has indicated that the most effective ELL programs are strongly content-based, for three main reasons: they facilitate English-language learning, promote cognitive development, and prevent students from falling behind in subject matter (Lessow-Hurley 83). Content-based ELL programs allow students to learn how to “develop the kind of language used in school” (Lessow-Hurley 83) rather than artificial and detached rules of grammar and vocabulary (Nieto 202). Providing content in English classes also offers motivation for students to learn English, as it is the mode of meaningful discourse (Lessow-Hurley 83). Furthermore, students need to acquire academic proficiency in English, not just rudimentary understanding of English (Lessow-Hurley 68-69, 83). Supporting English acquisition as well as the students’ academic achievement in general is the argument that, because “cognitive development and language development are inextricably tied” (Lessow-Hurley 83), it is vital that ELL programs provide students with the chance to develop their minds as well as their language through the study of content. Finally, ELL programs must be content based to prevent ELLs from falling behind in subject matter (Equal 31). If content is not provided, ELLs may emerge from ELL programs years behind other students in their grade or of the same age (Equal 31). Lack of content would severely disadvantage ELLs in their education. Holmes’ ELL program models a content-based ELL curriculum. “Making Connections” provides a great deal of the content for the English Language Development class, where students study in particular a large amount of literature. The ESL Core also provides content in social science and science, to specifically help ELLs acquire the content of their grades as they continue developing their English. The ELL classes also regularly use thematic units to teach the content, which has been shown to increase the comprehension and engagement of ELLs (Lessow-Hurley 85; Carrasquillo & Rodriguez 103). Devising an ELL program to incorporate and use as a foundation content is a significant difference from a simple, bare program that directly teaches ELLs the English language; Holmes’ program upholds that English language development and the educational development of students is best facilitated and supported by a content-based curriculum.
         An important concern in the education of minority children (in this case, language minority children) is making connections between the school and the students’ homes, families, and communities. Carrasquillo and Rodriguez report that “close cooperation and sincere and caring performance between parents, schools, and especially teachers can serve to improve LEP [Limited English Proficient] students psychologically and [their] academic performance” (167). However, it is important to keep in mind that families of ELLs do not necessarily have “the resources and confidence about the educational process that many middle-class parents take for granted” (Carrasquillo & Rodriguez 208). Parents of language minority students are often uncomfortable with the school environment: “A lack of familiarity and comfort with the school setting is one reason that many parents are reluctant to get involved…. They may feel that their own beliefs about education are ignored or undervalued,” or entering a school may recall poor education experiences involving “disenfranchisement and neglect” (Miramontes, Nadeau & Commins 205). ELL programs must therefore make a special effort to draw in the parents of ELLs. Experts in the field assert that schools can foster a strong and comfortable connection that will benefit students: “By providing space and time for parents… to meet together at school, staff can help establish the basis for a positive relationship” (Miramontes, Nadeau & Commins 225). Then, “Instead of school representing the ‘other world,’ it can act as a bridge between mainstream society and students’ own linguistic and cultural backgrounds” (Miramontes, Nadeau & Commins 209). It is critical that schools are not “paternalistic towards the parents we are working with, but instead to communicate a deep respect for who they are” (CABE, Reclaiming 178), affirming through this relationship the cultures and backgrounds of the program’s students. Such a relationship can help students to see the value of their own backgrounds, as their parents participate in their education: “When parent-school partnerships are formed, parents often develop a sense of efficacy that communicates itself to students with positive academic consequences, especially in the case of language minority. Involving family members in [their children’s schooling] can benefit students, families, and the school community in general” (Carrasquillo & Rodriguez 166).
         Holmes makes a strong effort to involve the parents of its ELLs. The English Learner Advisory Committee meets on the school site several times per year to discuss the nature of the ELL program, for parents to be informed of their rights, and for parents to provide feedback and opinions on the ELL program. The ELAC elects a representative to attend the DELAC (District English Learner Advisory Committee) meetings, where the representatives are advised on parents’ rights, are informed of and approve of the budget the District follows for the ELL program, and help inform the District of the ELL situation at their schools. As outreach to the home is often defined as schools actively seeking to draw the parents of ELLs “into the school arena as partners in the decision-making process” (Miramontes, Nadeau & Commins 203), Holmes does an excellent job involving ELLs’ parents and joining in a respectful and meaningful discourse with them. Communication flows both ways. The school does not attempt to teach the parents anything in order to make up for some cultural deficit (Nieto 108, 234), but attempts to best serve the parents of ELLs like the parents of any other students at the school. The indirect support of ELLs’ native languages on the part of the school also reinforces positive connections between all parties. Even as Holmes is restricted from using the ELLs’ native language in school, the program can still affirm ELLs’ background through outreach that encourages the continued use of their first languages: “In this way, the home language can be validated and encouraged, the parents’ lives and experiences valued, and family communication developed and fostered, regardless” (CABE, Reclaiming 174). The ELL program also strongly encourages students to take advanced courses in their native language; at Holmes only advanced Spanish course are offered, but at Davis Senior High School, more options are available. This furthers both the students’ linguistic and cognitive development and strength and the cultural connections between home, child, and school.
         All of the discussed methods of approaching ELLs respond to the attempt to ignore and suppress any marginalized cultures that is implied in the English-only law. Rather than seeking to assimilate ELLs and forcing ELLs to accommodate entirely to the school environment (Nieto 329), good ELL programs like the one at Holmes seek to address ELLs’ special cultural needs. One example of how Holmes admirably accommodates students with non-mainstream backgrounds is the Migrant Center Program. Of course, not all ELLs are migrants, but the Center addresses the needs of those that are. The Migrant Center Program is located in the District offices, but it serves students at Holmes, operating from May to October “to provide educational continuity for migrant students” (DJUSD web site) and providing assistance with numerous other services including health care, preschool, and day care. With this specific cultural group, outreach again is made to parents, who meet several times a year to “talk about their migrant issues and current events” (Kahn). The education of migrant children at Holmes is thus promoted by careful attention to their distinct background and cultural needs. Schools must ensure that they are attending comprehensively to the cultural situation of their ELLs, as addressing the cultural differences and endeavoring to fully support ELLs in their education is integral to successful education of minority students (Nieto 189, 193; Miramontes, Nadeau & Commins 208).
         Just as attention to culture is important, attention must be paid to the development of each individual child. Carrasquillo and Rodriguez stress the importance of teachers’ noting and responding to “individual differences among students” (16) for the success of ELL education. Holmes’ ELL program carefully monitors each student, ensuring that each student is in the proper level of English Language Development, is enrolled appropriately in either a mainstream Core or the ESL Core, and is enrolled in whatever supplementary classes the student might need, such as an extra reading class. This monitoring is done through testing as well as teacher observations, providing an effective and balanced method for determining the students’ needs. The program is also designed to provide a challenging curriculum for each student. The students are placed in ELD classes according to their level of English proficiency, but each class spans a range of proficiency levels so all students may progress at their own best rate, as opposed to classes that cater to the slowest, youngest, fastest or oldest students. As Proposition 227 does not define exactly how English language classes should be organized (and poorly conceived classes like those mentioned can and do exist within its specifications [Equal 31]), Holmes establishes an example of how programs can best be constructed to foster the greatest development of students.
         The monitoring also ensures that when a student is mainstreamed he or she is successful; if a student experiences inordinate difficulty, he or she will be taken back into the ELL program, possibly enrolling in another ELD class or a reading class. The continuation of ELL monitoring after students have been “re-designated” to the mainstream indispensably provides assurance of the students’ continued academic success. Since ESL cannot go on as long as research indicates would be best, the school mainstreams students when appropriate under the guidelines but operates continued monitoring to ensure that those students who might not succeed after being mainstreamed are not simply lost. Furthermore, Holmes makes an effort to place every mainstreamed ELL in classes taught by teachers trained in responding to their needs. Most teachers have a CLAD or BCLAD credential, enabling them to provide the adapted instruction required for mainstreamed ELLs (Carrasquillo & Rodriguez 13), and Holmes is working on having all teachers appropriately trained. Carrasquillo and Rodriguez report that “educators, especially those in mainstream educational settings, need to understand the linguistic and academic challenges encountered by LEP students. It is then that educators can provide all students with an appropriate learning environment and teaching strategies that are instrumental in the development of learners’ linguistic and academic competencies” (18). Mainstream class instruction is readily adapted to support ELLs’ learning, although it takes planning, like that in which Holmes engages (Carrasquillo & Rodriguez 18). The importance of the role of teachers and multiculturalism is apparent in the statement that “Positive teacher’s classroom social interactions promote the development of students’ cultural identities by accepting, respecting, and valuing cultural and linguistic differences in the classroom and by imparting a sense of peaceful co-existence of diverse life styles, manners, language patterns, and practices” (Carrasquillo & Rodriguez 16-17). As “research has shown that the ever-growing number of linguistically and culturally diverse minority students with varied educational needs will necessitate changes in instructional practices, and special training for teachers, especially mainstream teachers educating language minority students” (13), Holmes is a cutting edge example of how schools need to address the needs of ELLs. While plenty of schools simply place ELLs in mainstream classes without even alerting the teacher, who has no training for helping those students (Carrasquillo & Rodriguez 10), ELL programs must make a commitment to provide a supportive and meaningful education for ELLs.
         The various methods of serving ELLs that Holmes exemplifies counter the unspoken attempts of Proposition 227 and the English-only movement to employ political power and cultural policing to further marginalize groups outside the dominant and mainstream culture. Programs like Holmes’ that incorporate multiculturalism, validate, involve and address the backgrounds of the students, and take special care of the development of ELLs aim to provide the best possible education for ELLs. These programs do so in the face of social forces that seek to keep these students from cultural and political recognition and acceptance. Educators must make the effort today to provide for these students and address the political, cultural, and power-related issues that surround ELL education. While a change in the law may eventually be achieved, the students need our help today, and sensitivity towards the special nature of educating ELLs will always be beneficial, as the population of our society and schools change to include ever more diversity of languages and cultures.

Works Cited

California Association for Bilingual Education. Reclaiming Our Voices. Ed. Jean Frederickson. Ontario, CA: California Association for Bilingual Education, 1995.

---. “‘You Can’t Learn What You Don’t Understand’: Educating California’s English-Learners, A Case for Bilingual Education, Funding and SB 33 (MELLO): the Language Minority Education Act.” Ontario, CA: California Association for Bilingual Education, 1994.

Carrasquillo, Angela, and Vivian Rodriguez. Language Minority students in the Mainstream Classroom. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd., 1996.

Davis Joint Unified School District. “Special Programs.” 22 May 2001

Equal Access or Exclusionary Practice: Bilingual Education and the “English for Children” Initiative. Proceedings of public debate. Booth Auditorium at Boalt Hall Law School, UC Berkeley, 21 Oct 1997. Berkeley: Chicano/Latino Policy Project, 1997.

Kahn, Mary. Personal Interview. 24, 30 May 2001.

Lessow-Hurley, Judith. The Foundations of Language Instruction. New York: Longman, 2000.

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