With classrooms becoming more diverse, public schools are experimenting with new language programs to enhance ESL student learning.
ESL students, standing for English as a Second Language, typically need additional resources and support to adjust to the various linguistic complications of learning a new language. As a result, ESL students typically require additional funding.
However, as public schools are coping with reduced funding due to the economic recession, educational experts are debating the best approach to balancing school budgets while caring for each child’s language development. In an effort to save costs, some schools and states have created mandatory full inclusion programs, where ESL students are immersed in a regular-paced English class with students who are fluent in English. This strategy will reduce the costs of ESL specialists while still engaging ESL students in an atmosphere for learning.
While this approach certainly helps balance school budgets, many educators and parents argue that the full-inclusion classroom is ineffective for both fluent and ESL children.
Public Schools and ESL Programs
As The Multicultural Education Journal explains, the 2001 national mandate, No Child Left Behind, required that all public schools help ESL students become English proficient, as both fluent and ESL students are mandated to meet State and National achievement standards. While public schools are legally required to provide educational support for ESL kids, many experts assert that the current approach is both ineffective and flawed. As the number of minority students is rising each year in the United States, experts predict that by the year 2020, at least 50 percent of school-age children will be of non-English speaking backgrounds. With the current and rising statistics of non-English speaking students in public schools, leaders assert that all schools must take a more active approach to protecting the instructional support for these non-English speaking students.
Furthermore, as Inside Higher Education supports,
“‘During turbulent economic times, educational programs that serve culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse student populations may be at a disadvantage when competing for reduced funding with programs that serve conventional, mainstream student populations.’”
Many educators fear that ESL students will be left behind because many schools are forced to lay off teachers, enlarge class sizes, and distribute more responsibilities among the current school staff.
For example, California is one of the many states implementing the “full inclusion” classroom approach, requiring that all public schools instruct classes solely in English. This approach, titled Proposition 227, provides ESL kids $50 million each year for additional English tutoring support; however, these students are forced to engage in fluent English classes, even if they have never been exposed to the language. This proposition, like many full inclusion programs, is not solely designed to save school budgets; moreover, all of the propositions for full inclusion have the backing of experts who assert that the best way to attain language fluency is through inclusion instructional methods. While full inclusion has research and studies to support its incentives, many leaders still argue that there are better ways to teach both ESL and English-speaking students through non-inclusion practices.
Is Inclusion the Best Approach?
One of the biggest arguments against full English inclusion classrooms is revealed through the studies that assert ESL students adopt fluency more rapidly when engaging in specialized language support programs.
In addition to the argument that specialized support helps to increase ESL student learning, many educators and parents argue that the additional ESL support helps to maintain the challenging environment of a fluent classroom. Specifically, as a regular-paced English class is designed to instruct students who are of an “average” English speaking proficiency, immersing non-English speaking students in such classes often forces teachers to slow down the pace of instruction, making the overall challenge of the classless rigorous for English speaking students.
For example, when a teacher in a regular-paced history class assigns a research essay on a specific topic, that teacher must strive to accommodate his or her instruction and support to all students with needs—including language, learning, and cognition needs of both ESL and fluent students. Subsequently, as students work through their research papers, a single teacher’s ability to support each child becomes more challenging. The more children and special needs there are in each class, the less specialized support a single teacher can offer each individual student.
While various experts fear that inclusion programs diminish the educational opportunities for both fluent and ESL students, many leaders and parents disagree. According to Education Week, while support programs are in many ways essential for ESL children and families, many believe that separate setting instructional methods, which involve separating ESL children from fully fluent classrooms for the entire or partial class period, inappropriately create an environment of segregation.
In fact, as Education Week reveals, many new ESL programs are currently being evaluated by protestors who assert that the separate setting methods are a violation of the federal civil rights laws. As public schools are required to provide equal educational opportunities for all students, some believe that these programs only stimulate increased cultural bias as they do not provide opportunities for students of various and diverse backgrounds to interact. Some protest, “Special education and E.S.L. programs have undoubtedly made substantial progress... But it is time to move beyond unequal separate systems to integrated ones where all students have access to all the necessary services for their success.”
Overall, while the debate wages on, schools will be forced to make serious budgetary and educationally driven questions regarding how to protect the needs of all students to ensure that neither ESL nor fluent students are left behind.
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