The English Learner's Schooling Experience...an excerpt from my research on Long Term English Learners
The schooling experience is a particularly crucial time for English language learners as they develop their academic identity. From the moment English learners enter public schools, they are expected to adapt to the dominant language and culture, acquiring English and mastering grade level content at the same rate as their English only peers. These expectations have a “significant impact on the language skills and academic performance, as programs can either promote language loss or language maintenance and development over time” (Menken & Kleyn, 2010, p. 399). In addition to the demands of mastering content in all curricular areas while learning the language, middle and high school teachers and administrators are ill prepared and struggling to support this diverse group of ELs. “These students are likely to be segregated in the classrooms and in their communities…they are also likely to be taught by teachers who lack the preparation and skills to meet their academic needs” (Horwitz et al, 2009). A school’s and teacher’s level of commitment and encouragement can foster or hinder a student’s commitment to academic achievement.
Calderón and Minaya-Rowe’s (2011) research identify a number of factors that contribute to the development of this growing EL group, the Long Term English learner. The major factors include inconsistencies with language policy and attention to ELs, inconsistent instructional programs, limited primary language support, low expectations, segregation from other students, and teachers who are ill-equipped to work with LTELs. Olsen (2010) also identifies partial access to curriculum, social segregation, and linguistic isolation as contributing factors to the creation of LTELs (Olsen, 2011). Educators across the nation have begun to discuss best teaching practices for educating LTEL students; however, they have not established concrete systems to support them or prevent them from attaining this unreasonable level of language proficiency.
A variety of factors contribute to the substantial underachievement and social gaps for this population of ELs, preventing students from achieving English proficiency and academic success. Educators and policy makers are clearly contributing to the educational oppression of LTELs, as legislative policies and teaching practices shape the students’ schooling experiences.
As an educational leader, I strive to be part of the discussion and solution to this monumental issue. What can be done to provide the best possible schooling experiences for our English Learner students?