I am sorry to report that we are not doing very well in teaching children newly immigrated to the United States. This is particularly true for Hispanic children, who account for over three-quarters of students enrolled in bilingual (ESL or ELL) programs. For the most part, a substantial learning gap exists between Anglo and African American students and their Hispanic counterparts.
We must provide new immigrant students with services that are both culturally and linguistically appropriate. These children are our future. Yet, the overview seen across the country shows we are not investing in this future – children are being left behind.
Why should it make a difference where a young kid sitting in a class, trying to understand and learn, was born? Or where his or her parents were born? It does. Language and culture can create barriers to success in education, particularly for young immigrant students.
Strategies that work when educating new immigrant students
We know what works. We need to invest in these practices. One necessary approach that is needed – during the school day, providing direct language instruction is essential and most effective.
Opportunities to practice oral language skills must also be provided because relevancy and rehearsal will facilitate content learning. In academic content instruction, the strategy of language scaffolding is another proven technique to assist ELL’s in learning their lessons.
Parent and community engagement is equally essential in educating immigrant students. This means that education needs to be a priority in the lives of the family, and support needs to come from the community – businesses, churches, and other non-profits, as well as local government agencies.
It has also been shown, that cultural background knowledge, and classes in such curriculum, will engage young students and give them a sense of responsibility and pride for their own learning accomplishments.
In Tucson, the local school district that was targeted by the State Legislature and forced to shut down its Mexican American Studies Program (MAS) has just gone through a school board process, trying to gain approval for “new culturally relevant courses” in African-American and Mexican-American studies. This issue currently remains unsettled.
We know that early intervention is most effective in teaching immigrant students. We also know that after school programs are, as well.
A California State program, After School Learning and Safe Neighborhoods Partnerships Program (ASLSNPP) that has operated since 1998, has had a positive effect on students’ educational outcomes through better attendance, better test scores, higher graduation rates and increased college attendance. The program is also cost effective.
After school programs have a high return on investment (ROI) that has been quantified. One dollar invested in an at-risk child brings a return of $8.92 to $12.90, when programs such as ASLSNPP are enacted. Businesses would love to see such a high ROI.
We are always hearing about how schools should be run like a business. Well, here’s a chance for those who so propose, such as the supporters of Waiting For Superman, to step up. How about it, Mr. Gates? Is there money to support programs proven to help our new immigrant student to succeed in the classrooms?
When I have new students in my classes that have poor English skills, regardless of what their native tongue is, my instruction is limited for them. Biology has enough vocabulary as to qualify as a “foreign language” for most students. Without English, the learning curve is simply too steep. Technology, electronic translators, can help. Those cost money, just as do after school programs, early interventions, and alternative classes.
I think that the investment is well worth the initial outlay. The ROI is very high, and the future is simply too valuable to squander or ignore. ELL students are tasked with the dual challenge of both learning academic content taught in a language they have no mastery over, and simultaneously trying to learn that new language.
Our challenge is to give new immigrant students the means to succeed and to care that they do accomplish their educational goals. Seems to me that motivation is needed all the way around.