The New York Times Hosts a “Room for Debate” About Immigration

By Mary Ann Zehr — March 12, 2009 1 min read
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Yesterday, The New York Times launched what will be an on-going series of articles and opportunities for on-line discussion about immigration, with the first installment including commentary from experts and practitioners on how best to teach English-language learners. See “The Best Ways to Teach Young Newcomers.”

Linda Mikels, the principal of Sixth Street Prep School, a charter elementary school in Victorville, Calif., makes the case that English-only instruction for ELLs has been successful in her school. Marcelo and Carola Suarez-Orozco, co-directors of immigration studies at New York University, argue that the best results for ELLs come from dual-immersion programs. In those programs, students who are dominant in English and students who are dominant in another language learn both languages in the same classroom.

Scroll down to the comments and you’ll find that readers make the usual passionate arguments that English immersion is the most effective way to teach ELLs or that bilingual education is the way to go in schools.

Perhaps the coolest feature of the launch of this new forum is an interactive map that shows where people from different countries have settled in the United States. Plug in the Dominican Republic and you see that Dominicans have settled mostly in the northeast. Plug in China and you see that Chinese are largely settled on both of the coasts of the United States. Another feature is a searchable database that includes the history and ethnic diversity of every school district in the country.

But one important aspect of the education of ELLs is missing from this initial discussion launched by the New York Times. That’s the fact that two-thirds of ELLs are born in this country. (See this chart of the breakdown of U.S.-born and foreign-born ELLs from Quality Counts 2009.) The initial discussion doesn’t address how to educate English-language learners who may have little connection with the home country of their parents or grandparents yet enroll in school with limited English skills. The nation really needs to have a deep discussion about how best to motivate and support these U.S.-born ELLs.

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