23 Oregonians Get Crash Course in ELLs

By Mary Ann Zehr — October 01, 2008 1 min read
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A nonprofit organization in Oregon paid 23 ordinary Oregonians $150 a day to be bombarded with facts about English-language learners—and to come up with a recommendation on whether their fellow Oregonians should vote “yes” or “no” for a state ballot initiative that would affect such students.

The Oregonian reports that 14 members of the panel recommend a “no” vote on Measure 58. If passed, the measure would put a limit on the amount of time English-language learners can receive instruction in their native languages. The measure says the limit for high school students would be two years; for elementary school students, it would be one year. When I reported previously on the initiative, it seemed that it would also put the same limits on the amount of time English-language learners could spend in English-as-a-second-language programs.

Nine members of the panel recommended a “yes” vote. Both sides spelled out their arguments in a one-page summary of what they learned. You can find that summary at Healthy Democracy Oregon, the organization that hosted the panel.

I think Healthy Democracy Oregon made a smart move to involve a group of people in an intensive five-day seminar about English-language learners and the ballot initiative rather than to host numerous discussions about the initiative that last only a couple of hours. The latter approach is what seemed common among advocates of ELLs when voters in California, Arizona, Colorado, and Massachusetts debated whether to restrict native-language instruction in their states. Measures to curtail bilingual education have been approved in all of those states except for Colorado.

We’ll have to see, though, if the debate in Oregon on how best to serve English-language learners ends up being any smarter than it has been in any other states. Too often, debates about how to serve ELLs get sidetracked into emotional exchanges about immigration issues rather than truly informing people about the most promising ways to educate such students.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.