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California’s English Language Learner Programs Criticized

Aired 12/28/11 on KPBS News.

As the English Language Learner population continues to grow in the state, many are calling for an overhaul of the school system.

Elementary school children practice their English skills with an interactive ...
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Above: Elementary school children practice their English skills with an interactive program mean for English Language Learners.

— There are an estimated 1.6 million English learners in California. But only 1 in 10 reached proficiency levels in English last year.

Children from multilingual homes are tested for English proficiency as they begin school, and if they score low, they are placed into English language classes. The problem is, there are no standards for how to best help this population.

"The demographics of the state have changed and are continuing to change," said Lisa Garcia Bedolla, a professor at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Education. "And if we want our students to be successful we have to be able to conceptualize not only students that are monolingual in a home language, but also perhaps bilingual, and that doesn't necessarily mean they have an English deficiency."

The U.S. Department of Education recently criticized California's English learning program, saying it violated students' civil rights by failing to provide an equal education to non-native speakers.

"There is no one definition of what an English learner is, and in some ways, language development, at least in the classification now, is getting confounded with school readiness and literacy," said Garcia Bedolla.

Los Angeles Unified Schools will be the first in the state to try to address the lack of standards. Next year, it will be overhauling its program.

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | December 28, 2011 at 1:38 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Parents need to be more active in teaching children to speak English. I am learning Spanish because it's education and will help me in my work. However, I remember a lot of people scolding me for not speaking Spanish, claiming that I was ashamed of being Mexican. I'd tell them, "I'm not Mexican, I'm American."

When you come right down to it, Spanish isn't Mexico's native language anyway. That's Spain's native language, hence why it's known as Spanish. Knowing multiple languages is a beautiful thing, but if you rely on schools alone you are clearly missing the boat. You have to learn on your own initiative and parents should be the front runners in teaching kids by encouraging them to learn English.

After all, we are united by language too.

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