Saturday, July 1, 2017
[Monterey County] Civil grand jury tackles English learners challenge, again
SALINAS >> For the third year in a row, the Monterey County civil grand jury has turned a spotlight on English learners and their performance in local schools.
Their findings mirror those arrived at in the past: that English learners constitute a large share of the student population, that they don’t achieve English-language mastery at the same rate as their native-speaking counterparts, and that the gap between the two groups is wide.
Building on that previously acquired knowledge, what the 2017 group found was that there’s hardly anything that can be changed given existing demographic and financial constraints: the agricultural area attracts mostly Spanish-speaking workers, whose children attend the local schools — the group that shows the largest achievement gap compared to their native English-speaking peers. Salinas is a very expensive area and it’s difficult to attract outside talent to teach these students. Compounding on that effect, beginning teachers cannot receive larger salaries due to California’s school funding mechanism.
But according to jurors, there are a couple of things that could be done in spite of these constraints: that the Salinas elementary school districts – Alisal Union, Salinas City, and Santa Rita – adopt specific goals for the number of years it should take for English Language Learners to achieve proficiency, and that all three districts establish and use a uniform curriculum to ensure all students are equally prepared when entering middle school.
At the Alisal Union School District, administrators already have a goal and it is for each English learner to progress at least one level per year in the California English Language Development Test, currently known as CELDT.
“However, mastering English and, in general, a second language is a complex endeavor which, according to research, depends on a variety of factors, including the age of the student when she/he began learning English, the student’s prior schooling and academic preparation in the native language, the amount and quality of English language development the student receives,” Alisal Superintendent Héctor Rico said in an email. “Therefore, the range can be quite large, somewhere between 5-8 years.”
Rico said it would be difficult for the three districts to adopt one curriculum as their constituencies are different and have distinct needs.
“Moreover, each district is governed by independent boards of trustees,” Rico said. “Each board governs its respective district’s policies, including those pertaining to curricula and, thus, it is not currently feasible for the various Salinas school districts to establish and use a uniform EL curriculum.”
The report contrasts the concentration of English learners in Salinas elementary districts versus those on the Monterey Peninsula: at the Alisal, 71 percent of the students are English learners. The same holds true for 53 percent of students at the Salinas City Elementary School District, and 43 percent of students at Santa Rita Elementary. But at Carmel Unified, only 6 percent of students are English learners, and 8 percent at Pacific Grove Unified.
“Alisal has a higher percent of English Learners than either San Ysidro or Calexico Unified right on the U.S.-Mexico border. That’s a challenge,” said Jose Luis Alvarado, dean of the college of education at CSU Monterey Bay.
“Given the nature of the industry in the area and the population who works in the farming industry, we end up with a population that’s high percent Spanish-speaking and low income, two variables that create a real challenge.”
The problem could be alleviated if teachers were paid more, Alvarado said. In the meantime, CSUMB is tackling that challenge by helping create a pathway for local students to earn their teaching credential and to become bilingual teachers.
Changing attitudes about English learners and the value of being bilingual can also help, Alvarado said.
“We have to continue supporting Spanish to make sure students truly access the content and curriculum,” he said. “It’s using Spanish as a vehicle for them to acquire that second language. It’s a shift from a deficit perspective to an asset perspective. Being bilingual is absolutely an asset. You know how powerful it is to be bilingual.”
June 30, 2017
By Claudia Meléndez Salinas