Are English language learners a new population? Researchers would like us to believe so but the reality is that they are actually a complex group of students, full of diversity in their educational needs, backgrounds, languages, and goals, who have been coming to the United States for years. An English language learner is a person that is from another culture that has come to the United States to live, learn, become educated and find a career. The United States is known as the melting pot of the world and we will continue to have people of other cultures coming to our country.
Most of these immigrants speak different languages. You can walk down the street of most U. S cities and hear Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Spanish and other languages. Laws today provide all students in the United States equal access to a quality education no matter what their culture or background may be. Voter driven initiatives and laws have brought about many changes in education in our schools today in regards to our English language learners and how they are taught and expected to learn. Over the last 40 years we have seen legislative decisions that have shaped education in the United States.
In just the last 15 years the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts and Oregon have debated and asked their voters to make decisions regarding the education of ELLs (Mora, 2009). The states of California (1998), Arizona (2000) and Massachusetts (2002) have actually passed laws for English language learners to be put in programs called Structured English Immersion (SEI). Colorado (2002) and Oregon (2008) rejected initiatives on their ballots. (Mora, 2009). The voters in these states were against the dismissal of bilingual education.
So what did these three states do for their ELLs? California was the leader of the pack. Their initiative, led by English for the Children, advocated that English learners be taught only in English. Their opposition argued that bilingual children could not learn English as well as other subjects such as Science, Math and Social Studies without the use of bilingual education. The voters of California decided that the English for the Children group was correct in saying that students would learn best by being immersed in English Instruction (GCU, n. ) and so SEI (Structured English Immersion) was born. Arizona was next to follow in the path of California but with their initiatives allowed for even less opportunity for bilingual programs. Arizona’s English-only initiative, Proposition 203 (2000), arrived in the midst of a lawsuit in Nogales, AZ. The Flores family was suing the state of Arizona for not providing adequate learning opportunities for their children (Flores v. Arizona, 2000). (GCU, n. d). The passing of Proposition 203 and the eventual decision to the Flores v.
Arizona case led to Arizona requiring that all current certified personnel had to acquire an SEI endorsement by August 2009 in order to keep their certification. Arizona Proposition 203 along with California Proposition 227 restricted the access of bilingual education to language-minority students (Mora, 2002). When Massachusetts followed in 2002, Structured English Immersion was alive and well across the country in California and Arizona. The English for Children group had no trouble convincing the voters of Massachusetts to pass their own SEI initiative. GCU, n. d. ) What all of these initiatives and laws did was require schools to teach their ELL students only in English by following a SEI plan. When the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act came about in 2001 they too looked at ELL students and chose to remove the word bilingual from their policies and make schools accountable for showing adequate progress from all of their students in the English language. Have we solved the issues of students from other cultures who are learning English?
Have we made teaching ELLs easier for our schools and teachers? These are questions I feel we will be asking for years to come. As people continue to migrate into our country we will focus on educating their children so they can be successful in the United States. As educators we will use all the resources we have to help and guide them in learning the English language. We will strive for them to be successful as dictated by the policies of NCLB. Will we, as educators, be successful? With some students we will, and with others we will not.
But this would be the case with any student no matter their culture or background. History shows that we will even have American children who will not be successful no matter what we do and others that will rise to the top to be great leaders. Initiatives and laws don’t make better teachers, they don’t make better students, they don’t make better schools but they do establish guidelines so that each child is receiving an equal opportunity. In the United States we will continue to provide all of our students an equal education.