At a forum held in Washington a few weeks ago, it was reported that the findings show that,
"English Learners are still being denied access to the kinds of classes, resources, and educational opportunities necessary to be successful in college and career."Specifically the CRDC (Civil Rights Data Collection) service asserted,
"Among other things, the data shows that English Learners have lower rates of enrollment in Algebra I , which is a critical gateway course for other advanced math and science courses that act as hurdles that slow or halt a student’s progress towards a college degree."Reading through the survey design I am at a loss to find how the statistics measured and reported led to the conclusion that students are "denied access." The survey design appears to show only that EL's do not enroll in Algebra I and AP courses at the same rate as non-EL's. (It should be noted that these figures are provided by the school district, not the students themselves). Making the leap from that statistic to them being "denied access" is worthy of Guiness mention.
I can find nothing in the numerous tables provided that shows the study's attempt to meet with those who had the opportunity to enroll and chose not to, or an attempt to explain why EL's did not qualify for Algebra I. It is also important to note that the survey wanted to know if student's were enrolled in Algebra I in 7th or 8th grade. There was no follow up question that determined if and when they did finally enroll in this class. There was also no data provided that indicated when they began learning English. Was it in kindergarten? Was it in 6th grade. If the former, why were they not semi proficient by 7th grade? If the latter, is it really fair to say that they are unfairly being denied access to complex science and technology courses in a language they are not facile with?
The CRDC service is on a mission to find what's wrong with American education and demonstrate some sort of institutional bias. Rosalinda Barrera stated in her article that, "we need to see them [EL's] as an untapped resource for developing a multi-lingual STEM workforce that has the potential to keep the U.S. competitive in an increasingly competitive global economy."
Am I missing something? We seem to have plenty of non-English speaking students in the sciences. Look around your typical college level science or technology course. The room is crammed with students who checked some box besides "Caucasian" on their application. Even more likely, the person standing in front of the room is speaking heavily accented English, as it is their second language. The Rate My Professors site is loaded with comments from students complaining that they could not understand the TA who taught their class 90% of the time (even though a tenured professor is being paid to put their name on the syllabus), because the TA spoke with such a thick accent.
The data points that CRDC did collect are also interesting. The ethnicities they tracked were American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Black, and White. Strangely there were no boxes for Jewish, Arab, or Mongol. These too are distinct ethnicities that could potentially speak English as a second language. Apparently we are not too concerned with them entering STEM classes. A statement from the forum spells out who we ARE concerned with entering STEM classes. Congressman Rúben Hinojosa spoke at the forum and highlighted his work to support greater educational opportunities for residents of south Texas and his efforts to support and strengthen minority-serving institutions (MSIs), especially in south Texas, in hopes of creating an education pipeline for students living in the mostly agrarian region. These efforts clearly address only one box on the CRDC forms. Is that what the DOE is going to focus on?
Our country has a history of people immigrating here with little or no English skills, participating in education (or sometimes not) and succeeding. Could it perhaps be the case that the EL's who fail to enroll in these classes simply do not have the drive of others who do succeed? The tables available for review from this report do not give this type of detail and it is unclear whether a cause for the data was looked for. A statical correlation does not mean a causative correlation. There were no tables or reports on talks with those EL's who did not enroll to find out WHY they were not in more STEM or AP classes.
Our take away from this report should be an understanding of what can happen when we gather "data" and then look to create policy changes to change the "data." This report is a precursor to the Longitundinal data base being developed by the DOE and the three consortia. Take note how data is being analyzed and used.
During her remarks at the forum, National Teacher of the Year Michelle Shearer, who teaches chemistry in Frederick, Maryland, shared some teaching techniques she uses that she believed other teachers can use with EL students: "Using examples when teaching a new concept, using visuals, making lessons relevant to students’ lives, and validating students’ use of their native language." The first three techniques seems obvious as teaching tools, regardless of the type of students in the class. Her last recommendation begs the question: When students use their native language to communicate a concept to a roomful of non speakers of that language, is it effective? Do we really want to promote, or validate, such communication? Do we applaud speakers at the UN, who speak in their native tongue, simply for doing so, or do we employ translators and applaud only when we agree with the content of their speech?
Ms. Shearer claimed that, most importantly, students will need the 4Cs: "critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration, and communication skills" in order to succeed in the global market. If what students really need is the 4c's, then why are we focusing so much on getting them into STEM courses?