Blog: Latino Ed Beat

English Language Learner Instruction Change Stirs Debate

A decision by the Los Angeles Unified School District to group limited English proficient children into classes together rather than blending them into mainstream classes has sparked protests and petition drives.

Over and over, the word “segregation” has popped up during debate over the plan.

The district intends to move some ELL children into different classes even though the school year is well underway. Protestors say that children limited in English can benefit from being in classes with English proficient children, from whom they can learn. Supporters of the policy say academic studies show that ELL children will flourish in classes where their special needs are met and will develop stronger academic English in such settings.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the school district is only just now beginning to enforce a policy that has been on the books since 2000 because of an agreement to settle a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights over accusations that the district was not providing adequate services to ELLs.

Meanwhile, the Times reports that 17 principals wrote a letter expressing opposition to the policy. They wrote that separating students creates a “chasm” between groups and that fluent English-speaking children can be models for ELL children.

In a letter to the Times, Stephen Krashen, an education professor emeritus at the University of Southern California and supporter of bilingual education, wrote that both sides are right.

“A solution is to provide English as a second language classes for beginners, while including these students in classes that are highly comprehensible (art and music, for example),” he wrote. “Subjects that are harder to make comprehensible for beginners are taught in the first language. Students are moved to classes that require higher levels of English as their English improves, first participating in classes that require less abstract language (science and math) and later in those that demand more abstract language.”

Language wars over how to best teach ELLs don’t appear to be going away any time soon.

Related Links:

“L.A. Unified’s English Learner Action Upsets Parents, Teachers,” Los Angeles Times.
“Segregating English Learners in Schools,” Los Angeles Times.
“Los Angeles Schools’ Plan for Non-English Speakers: Segregation or Solution?” Christian Science Monitor.
“Letters: Learning English in LA Unified,” Los Angeles Times.