“Obvious” Ways to Improve Education of ELLs in California

By Mary Ann Zehr — March 19, 2007 2 min read
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Providing learning materials and making available assessments in students’ native languages, and hiring teachers and staff who speak students’ primary languages are some of the “obvious” ways that California schools could improve how they teach English-language learners, according to a couple of researchers in the state.

I find it interesting that Patricia Gándara, a professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Russell W. Rumberger, a professor of education at the University of California, Santa Barbara, have chosen the word “obvious” in their recent recommendation for an increase in the use of students’ native languages in a state where voters approved a ballot initiative in 1998 to try to get rid of bilingual education.

What’s obvious to the researchers was OBVIOUSLY not obvious to many Californians in 1998, and I wonder if much has changed since then. (Readers, tell me what you think.) Though Proposition 227 provides a way for schools to provide bilingual education through a parent waiver process, the number of English-learners in bilingual education has decreased dramatically since the initiative’s passage.

But Ms. Gándara and Mr. Rumberger persist in trying to get the word out that research findings indicate closing the achievement gap between language-minority students and students who speak only English (See Claude Goldenberg’s glossary) is most likely to occur with a bilingual curriculum. Their view and others they hold for how to improve education for English-language learners in California based on their research or review of research are published in a 4-page summary of a study, “Resource Needs for California’s English Learners,” released last week along with 22 other studies about the financing and governance of public education in California. Education Week‘s Linda Jacobson wrote an article about the studies.

Also last week, Mr. Rumberger published an article analyzing research data showing that Spanish-speaking, language-minority students in California aren’t doing as well in keeping up with their peers who speak only English as are their counterparts nationwide. The results of Mr. Rumberger’s analysis “call into question California’s current efforts to educate the state’s growing linguistic-minority population--especially Spanish-speaking students--and to close the sizeable achievement gap with other students,” he writes.

He doesn’t mention Proposition 227 in his article, which was published in a newsletter of the University of California’s Linguistic Minority Research Institute and which I wrote about for Report Roundup on Education Week‘s Web site.

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