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Joe Guzzardi: School districts must do a better job teaching English learners

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Posted: Saturday, May 17, 2014 12:00 am

When I retired from the Lodi Unified School District after a 22-year career spent mostly as an English as a second language instructor, I had only one regret. I was sorry that I wasn’t able to help more students, mostly adults, learn English.

To be sure, there were many variables out of both students and my control that made it difficult — jobs that interfered with regular classroom attendance, transportation conflicts and domestic responsibilities. But in the end, if my students didn’t progress, we both failed.

Two specific things troubled me most. First, since most students were young adults who would ultimately live many more years in the U.S. than they had in their native countries, their American lives would be less fulfilling without fluency in English.

Second, and perhaps more important, if my adult students weren’t mastering English, they were unlikely to speak it at home. That meant, in turn, that their children would be less likely to communicate in English. Indeed, 43 percent of California households speak a language other than English.

If English isn’t being reinforced at home, then it falls to California’s K-12 schools to ensure that students learn. Although there are many uncertainties ahead in the economy, one thing is absolute: Without English mastery, California’s young adults will be doomed to low-paying jobs with limited futures.

An important Public Policy Institute of California analysis titled “Pathways to Fluency: Examining the Link between Language Reclassification Policies and Student Success” found that English learners who are reclassified as proficient by the end of fifth grade perform as well or better academically than native speakers, and they continue to do so through middle and high school. The PPTC’s findings are based on its study of California’s two largest school districts, Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified. The demographically diverse districts — which include Hispanic students, Southeast Asians and South Asians — represent about 15 percent of California’s total English learners. Statewide, English learners comprise 25 percent of total enrollment, about 1.4 million students.

The PPIC researchers tracked students in Los Angeles and San Diego for a decade, from second grade through their 12th-grade year. Those reclassified by the end of fifth grade not only did as well or better than native English speakers on state standardized tests, they were also as likely or more likely to make grade level progress and to graduate from high school.

PPIC notes, however, that reclassifying students’ language skills is more complex than it should be. Under current standards, students must not only reach thresholds on two different exams, but individual districts are also able to set their own requirements, which are often different from the state’s standards and those of other districts.

Accordingly, PPIC recommends allowing districts to reclassify students based on their success on a single but more rigorous test. Learning English shouldn’t be bogged down in bureaucratic red tape that, inadvertently or not, may delays a child’s progress. If PPIC’s findings in Los Angeles and San Diego holds true in other districts with a high number of English learners, then its suggestions to accelerate reclassification should be adopted.

Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

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Welcome to the discussion.

15 comments:

  • Brian Dockter posted at 8:33 am on Thu, May 29, 2014.

    Brian Dockter Posts: 2830

    Irrelevant

     
  • Brian Dockter posted at 8:31 am on Thu, May 29, 2014.

    Brian Dockter Posts: 2830

    Eric Barrow stated:

    Mary makes a good point can't the LNS find a local to contribute to our local paper? How long does Joe have to be away before his views on our fair city and great state become irrelevant?

    -Eric Barrow,
    So, in other words. since Joe Guzzardi doesn't support your thinking you find him irrevelent? Please explain.

     
  • Christina Welch posted at 2:43 pm on Thu, May 22, 2014.

    Christina Welch Posts: 378

    Oh, I guess you now DO want to have a conversation with me, Ms. Bobin? And I’m the one trying to cause problems here?

    I never claimed I was an expert on language acquisition, and you are well aware of that, Ms Bobin. I was providing my own personal experiences as a counter to yours. You said, “Try sitting in a classroom with ELL's for a few days. I have - at LMS. Teachers, even if they have had the training, don't get involved with non-English speakers. They may have a TA that speaks Spanish that they rely on to help non-English speakers understand class instructions. But after that the attitude in general is that the kids are pretty much on their own.” You have also commented about the push-back from racist teachers that your husband experienced over this issue. Perhaps I am a bit sensitive because it hits close to home, but I do not appreciate such denigration of teachers. I was defending our honor, if you will. I was never claiming to be an authority on the issue & I do agree with you that Ms Ragusa is. And I have agreed with her since the start of this thread. This argument/discussion has never been about the theories, it has been about the attitudes and biases.

     
  • Joanne Bobin posted at 9:10 am on Thu, May 22, 2014.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4488

    Oh, well let me apologize to Ms. Welch - she should have explained that she was an expert in English language acquisition!

    So, I'm assuming that the program your school runs is an SEI rather than an alternative program - that is, I wouldn't think that the availability of instructors who can teach in each child's native language would be so available at one location.

    What is the average length of time each child spends in this program? Ms. Ragusa states 5-7 years for full English fluency. When are students reclassified so that they can go on to the mainstream classroom?

    Also, is this a private or public school? I'm thinking this school must be located outside of Lodi - either Stockton or Elk Grove/Sacramento area since you have stated that you are a "commuter."

    Please share your expertise.

     
  • Christina Welch posted at 1:07 pm on Tue, May 20, 2014.

    Christina Welch Posts: 378

    Actually, I work with English language learners on a daily basis, Ms Bobin. My school actually houses a special school within a school, if you will, that is specifically designed for the most recent arrivals to the US. I have students from all around the world speaking many different languages. You are absolutely correct about the need for more parent involvement, and my school has a pretty successful parent institute with that in mind. But, I have to disagree with your assertion that most teachers leave the students"pretty much on their own." At least, that is not the case at my school. You also make a valid point about Mr Guzzardi's expertise being in working with adult language learners so he is not truly able to address or understand the issue. But that doesn't mean his intent is to denigrate English language learners in his article, as you claim. It would be much easier to have a conversation with you about this topic (and others, I might add) if you would just stick to the issues instead of attacking the people with whom you are conversing or commenting on.

    But, since you see no need to continue any conversation with me, I will bid you adieu...

     
  • Joanne Bobin posted at 9:51 am on Tue, May 20, 2014.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4488

    Since it seems that your presence in this forum (this topic) is solely to refute anything I say, there is really no need to continue any conversation with you, "Ms Welch." Especially since you only inserted yourself here to cause problems.

    The topic of English language acquisition is complex, and the report that Joe Guzzardi is referencing goes far beyond what he seems to think is a simple fix, i.e., reclassifying students as English proficient by Grade 5.

    Ms. Ragusa is on the front line of this issue and knows the challenges. Joe Guzzardi is not since his only experience is with adults and with "reading reports."

    What no one seems to mention is 1. Districts have a stake in reclassifying students as English proficient since they lose some serious funding once a reclassification is done. And 2. No one has mentioned the power of parent involvement.

    Ms. Ragusa finds this an obstacle - especially with parents who are speakers of languages other than Spanish. But since most students are Spanish speakers, teachers who may be fluent in Spanish have many options. I can't tell you the number of hours my husband spent on the phone with parents both as a teacher and an administrator.

    He was continually calling them - encouraging them to work with their children, getting them to come to school events - in general, involving them at every turn. Parents were happy to get involved once they knew that someone was there to help. Without that knowledge they simply sent their kids to school and didn't know what results to expect.

    Try sitting in a classroom with ELL's for a few days. I have - at LMS. Teachers, even if they have had the training, don't get involved with non-English speakers. They may have a TA that speaks Spanish that they rely on to help non-English speakers understand class instructions. But after that the attitude in general is that the kids are pretty much on their own.

     
  • Christina Welch posted at 1:18 pm on Mon, May 19, 2014.

    Christina Welch Posts: 378

    So, Ms Ragusa makes the point (a valid one, I think) that there are many variables outside the classroom that affect language acquisition, and Ms Bobin raves "Excellent points!"

    Mr. Guzzardi makes basically the same point that there are these variables and proposes a new approach to the reclassification process (as recommended by a respected organization like the PPIC) and Ms Bobin claims he wants to "convict the non-English speaking segment of our society by claiming they don't want to learn English or have too many obstacles to that goal."

    So which is it, Ms Bobin? An excellent point for one, but not the other? Or, just more of your predisposition to think of people in a certain way even if their own words don't necessarily prove your preconceived notions?

     
  • Joanne Bobin posted at 9:29 am on Mon, May 19, 2014.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4488

    Eric - I might have agreed with you in the past, but now I see that Joe Guzzardi is making an excellent effort at showing his inability to grasp the topic of his supposed expertise.

    I love it. Keep up the good work, Joe!

     
  • Joanne Bobin posted at 9:27 am on Mon, May 19, 2014.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4488

    Ed, I'm sure your lack of understanding of Guzzardi's topic as a whole had led you to give me a [sleeping] rating.

    I can only say that I feel sorry for your inability to grasp the topic at hand, rather than solely make disparaging remarks about the Lodi News Sentinel's choice of columnists.

     
  • Eric Barrow posted at 8:52 am on Mon, May 19, 2014.

    Eric Barrow Posts: 1521

    Mary makes a good point can't the LNS find a local to contribute to our local paper? How long does Joe have to be away before his views on our fair city and great state become irrelevant?

     
  • Jerome Kinderman posted at 5:36 pm on Sun, May 18, 2014.

    Jerome R Kinderman Posts: 2354

    The "authority" rests with the editors of the Lodi News-Sentinel. Just because someone lives in a different city, county or even a different state shouldn't mean their opinions have no value. The last time I checked we aren't the "States of America." "United" changes the phrase considerably. I would suggest to anyone not wishing to read what a contributor to this or any other publication would be to check the by-line first. Once that information is digested, that should be enough to decide if they ought to begin reading the article or just move along to someone or something more to their liking.

    Liberals/progressives are often not so liberal or progressive.

     
  • Ed Walters posted at 1:36 pm on Sun, May 18, 2014.

    the old dog Posts: 527

    Well Mary: the owners of the LNS have the authority to allow anyone they feel can contribute to the paper to install their opinion, and thats the history lession for today.

    As far as Boben is concerned [sleeping]

     
  • Joanne Bobin posted at 9:51 am on Sun, May 18, 2014.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4488

    Excellent points, Ms. Ragusa.

    My husband was a trainer for CLAD and all its prior and present incarnations for over 15 years. The amount of push-back by the veteran teachers compelled to take this training was incredibly overwhelming and many times downright racist.

    Lodi High School teachers almost had a riot over this training back in 1995 or 96. They were actually shouting and threatening the instructor until the principal intervened.

    That is one of the reasons that LUSD had an investigation and determination by the Office of Civil Rights. They were not employing the appropriate methods to properly include ELL's in instruction in all district schools.

    Mr. Guzzardi wants to convict the non-English speaking segment of our society by claiming they don't want to learn English or have too many obstacles to that goal. They do, and they will. And they will be successful.

    That is the threat to Mr. Guzzardi's world.

     
  • Mary Ragusa posted at 3:06 pm on Sat, May 17, 2014.

    lilragu Posts: 20

    First of all, if Joe no longer lives in California, and hasn't for years, what gives him the authority to comment on these matters?
    I also currently teach in a Lodi elementary school that is about 96-98% English Language Learners (ELL's). According to advanced studies done on language acquisition, it takes a full 5 to 7 years with full inclusion to become fluent in another language. My degree is in linguistics. I studied over 5 languages. I felt fairly fluent in Spanish when I began to dream in Spanish! I was an adult who had studied four years of college Spanish, spoke Spanish at home with roommates in the same field of study and traveled extensively in Mexico and Spain! I still do not speak like a native, translate my verbs correctly or know all the vocabulary!! I am 58!!!!
    Unfortunately, the children in American schools do not have these advantages. They come to school for 6 hours a day. They are instructed in English, with modifications and helped in their native language if possible, if they come with no English. We are highly qualified teachers who are trained to teach ELL students.
    BUT these children go home to families who do not speak English. They receive little to no help in English at home. Many receive no help with homework and no encouragement. For many, education stops when they go home. It is not valued in the home! They are not read to, even in their native language. They are put in front of a TV or sent to play outside. Older children watch younger children for working parents. Teenagers take on part-time jobs to help the family financially. POVERTY is a big role in all of this!!!!
    Our schools are segregated by neighborhood, so the ELL children live and go to school with their "native-speaking" friends. Their parents do not need to learn English because all the markets, hairdressers, restaurants, doctors, lawyers, insurance sales people, pharmacists, etc...all speak their native language. Even the government and school district send all communications in several languages so the parents can read in "their" language.
    In Lodi, we have neighbors/merchants/friends/students who speak well over 7-10 languages. My report cards translate into Spanish, Pashto, Urdu, Vietnamese and other languages if necessary! California is no longer an "English" speaking state...maybe OFFICIALLY, BUT NOT IN REALITY.

     
  • Joanne Bobin posted at 2:36 pm on Sat, May 17, 2014.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4488

    I've always been curious about Joe Guzzardi's EXACT qualifications for being an ESL instructor. In all of the columns he has written, I have never seen a single word about the course of instruction he had taken in order to qualify to teach English to non-English speaking students. And he has, admittedly, had several other professions before becoming an ESL instructor.

    This statement sums up a lot of the misinformation and disinformation that individuals like Guzzardi love to spread:

    "Second, and perhaps more important, if my adult students weren’t mastering English, they were unlikely to speak it at home. That meant, in turn, that their children would be less likely to communicate in English. Indeed, 43 percent of California households speak a language other than English."

    According to research:

    "Adolescents and young adults are the most efficient. It is only in developing native-like pronunciation that young children have the advantage."

    "Language acquisition takes time and must be acquired through exposure in a variety of contexts. Formal teaching does not speed up the natural process, but it can be hindered, however, with inappropriate teaching methods."

    "English immersion is not always best. More English may slow down learning. Learners need uninterrupted cognitive development. Native language is the best medium for cognitive development. Allow conversations and thinking in L1 in class and do not encourage use of English (L2) at home if that is not the primary/dominant language."

    "The strongest predictor of success of second language learners is use of L1 at home. All countries, all languages have equal opportunity for success. Strongest factor is L1 support."

    L1 is an individual's "first language" or "native language." L2 is a second language being acquired.

    I have met many, many of my husband's former ESL students. Most speak English very well - their children speak English like native English speakers - and they all speak their "native language" at home, in other words, adults and children are all bilingual.

    Most are successful with their own businesses or they hold higher level positions with their employers. All function quite well within society.

    Someone must have done something right for these students. I wonder why Guzzardi has such regrets about his students?

     

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