More than 5.3 million American public school students would struggle to understand this sentence.
These students need to be taught the English language in addition to the usual material in math, science, and social studies. This presents a monumental challenge for educators nationwide, according to Patricia Gandara, a UCLA education professor whom President Barack Obama appointed to the Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. She is also co-director of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Speaking at the Education Writers Association's National Seminar, held in May at Stanford University, Gandara referenced a nationwide survey given to teachers already trained for the growing number of English-language learners, commonly called ELLs.
“In the words of teachers themselves, they don’t feel qualified,” Gandara said.
About 40 percent of American teachers have ELL students in their classrooms, but only a third of these teachers have training for them. However, this training usually amounts to just four hours over five years, said Granada on Saturday, laying the ground for a panel of ELL experts and teachers discussing why intensive efforts have failed to close the gaps of ELL students.
“This is really difficult to do,” said Gandara, quoting a bilingual teacher who still struggles to keep ELL students on track despite speaking Spanish, the native language of three-fourths of America’s ELL students.
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Ashley Bessire teaches at a charter school that has managed success despite an enrollment that’s 82 percent ELL students. The approach of her Austin school,KIPP Comunidad, is “one face one language.” Each teacher sticks to one language in all their instruction, meaning students transition from Spanish to English-speaking classrooms throughout the day. And teachers of different languages overlap material. An English-based writing teacher might ask students to write about what they learned in their Spanish-based science course, Bessire told the EWA audience.
The school wants students to know their native language as well as English, but the goal is for students to actually score higher in comprehension of their native language than English, she said.