Language Policy Essay

LANGUAGE LEGISLATION: VOTER DRIVEN INITIATIVES Kelly M. Jefferson Grand Canyon University: SPE 523 July 23, 2012 The issue of language policy and the education of English language learners (ELLs) in this country has been hotly debated and widely contested. Students who enter our school systems without an understanding of the English language must attain not only conversational proficiency, but also academic literacy in English. Academic literacy is the foundation of school success and necessary for students to master content standards (Echevarria, Short, & Vogt, 2008).

All parties agree that ELLs are federally entitled to a quality education once they join this country’s educational system. The debate stems from how to effectively teach students English and core content, simultaneously, in ways that ensure their success within the curriculum. Politicians and educators must also grapple with the dilemma of how to effectively educate non-native students, so as to facilitate their adequate proficiency on a myriad of statewide tests required of all pupils enrolled in public schools.

ELLs are concentrated in the urban areas of states like California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, and New York, which have seen the largest influx of English learners within their schools (Boyle, Cadiero-Kaplan, & Peregoy, 2008). Students with limited English proficiency (LEP) made up almost ten percent of the K-12 public school student population in the 2004-2005 school year (Echevarria et al. , 2008). Spanish is the most prevalent primary language (L1) and is spoken by eighty percent of ELLs (Boyle et al. , 2008).

In the absence of clear direction at the federal level on how to best prepare ELLs academically, many states have taken the matter into their own hands through various voter initiatives. Arizona, California, and Massachusetts are states that have attempted to solve these questions through ballot initiatives. The voters of each state overwhelmingly adopted a Structured English Immersion (SEI) approach in which ELLs receive all content in English via a sheltering technique that allows learners to understand their instruction.

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The goal of SEI is language, literacy, and content learning exclusively in English. Each state elected to limit the amount of time ELLs are provided with language assistance to roughly one year, despite research findings that show students need at least five to seven years of language assistance to acquire the English proficiency required for successful academic participation (Boyle et al. , 2008). Arizona’s Proposition 203 was passed in November of 2000 and effectively repealed bilingual education laws in effect at that time.

Proposition 203 required all students to be taught in English with the exception of those classified as” English Learners”. Designated pupils are instructed through sheltered English immersion programs (SEI) primarily in English, although a minimal amount of a child’s native language may be incorporated, when necessary (“www. ballotpedia. org”, 2012). Students who demonstrate a solid working knowledge of English are transferred out of the SEI program into a regular English classroom. Parents of identified ELL children have the ability to obtain a waiver that excuses their child from participation in the SEI program.

Excused students are often taught English and other content via traditional bilingual education instruction or another recognized instruction method (www. ballotpedia. org, 2012). Parents are also entitled to recoup any actual and compensatory damages they incur as the result of school officials failing to comply with Proposition 203. The Massachusetts English in Public Schools Initiative, known as Question 2, is very similar to the Arizona law, in that Question 2 places a heavy reliance on SEI programs and lessens the availability and access to bilingual education programs.

Passed in 2002, the law mandates that all public school children must be taught English. All content is delivered in English language classrooms (“www. ballotpedia. org”, 2012). Children whose native language is not English are educated using the SEI method with minimal access to their native language at their teacher’s discretion. Question 2 allows for children from diverse native language groups to be placed in the same classroom provided their English skills are of similar levels. The law does not affect students with physical and mental impairments in special education programs (“www. ballotpedia. org”, 2012).

Question 2 differs from Arizona’s Proposition 203, in that if twenty or more students in any one grade level at a school obtain waivers that school must offer bilingual education classes in both the child’s native language and English or another type of generally recognized educational program. Question 2 contains some of the same provisions as Proposition 203, such as a parent’s right to sue school officials who obstruct its implementation. English learners in the state undergo annual standardized tests of their English skills and students in grades two and above take annual written standardized tests in English (“www. allotpedia. org”, 2012). California voters passed Proposition 227 by a huge majority in 1998. The law answered the question of how to educate English language learners in that state by putting in place a statewide SEI program and drastically eliminating access to bilingual education programs (Purcell, 2002). In sync with similar initiatives in Arizona and Massachusetts, Proposition 227 calls for the education of all children in English by being taught in English. The law allows LEP students one year of language assistance before they are mainstreamed into total English speaking classrooms.

Each piece of legislation fails to consider the body of research that finds that nonnative speakers need anywhere from five to seven years of language instruction in order to attain a level of proficiency within a second language. The laws also neglect studies that prove that time spent learning in a student’s native tongue does not negate English language development, but enhances it due the transference of literacy skills from one language to another (Purcell, 2002). Also, within the pressurized and time constrained settings of many SEI programs, students are not granted the involuntary and often incidental tmosphere that language development often occurs in. Without necessary native language instruction amid an English language deficit, many LEP students have failed to attain the level of academic achievement and English language proficiency entitled to them. References Arizona english language education for children in public schools, proposition 203 (2000). (2012, February 28). Retrieved from http://ballotpedia. org/wiki/index. php/Arizona_English_Language. Boyle, O. F. , Cadiero-Kaplan, K. , & Peregoy, S. F. (2008). Reading, writing, and learning in ESL: A resource book for K-12 teachers.

Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. Echevarria, J. , Short, D. J. , & Vogt, M. (2008). Making content comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP Model. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. Massachusetts english in public schools initiative, question 2 (2002). (2012, February 27). Retrieved from http://www. ballotpedia. org/wiki/index. php/Massachusetts_Question 2. Purcell, J. (2002). The foundations and current impact of california’s proposition 227. Retrieved February 28, 2012 from U. S Department of Education, Educational Resources Information Center: http://www. eric. ed. gov.

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