Helping English Language Learners

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This was something I wrote for one of my classes when I was going for my education masters.

One of the major issues in education in the United States is determining how to help ELLs (English Language Learners), students whose command of the English language is not particularly strong. This leads to difficult questions that have not been resolved, such as whether the students should be segregated from the rest of the student body, and what specific kinds of institutional support would be most appropriate and effective. The textbook provides statistics on ELLs in the United States, although the numbers are different for New York state, and New York City. The National Center for Education Statistics notes that in the last available school year (2012-2013) 7.5 percent of students in the state participated in programs meant for English Language Learners, which is below the national average of 9.2 percent. However the percentage is higher in New York City. According to the 2013 Demographic Report from the New York City Department of Education, “ELLs make up 14.4% of the entire DOE student population, as there are 159,162 ELLs enrolled in the school system.” A further 41% of NYC students speak a language other than English at home, double the national average.

Statistics for the city aren’t going to be consistent from school to school. The Center for New York City Affairs from The New School produces an excellent website, Inside Schools, which has information on the percentage of the students who are ELLs – defined in this case as “the percentage of students who require English as a second language in the 2014-2015 school year” – in a particular school. For example, I can look up the page for I.S. 119, the middle school I went to, and determine that four percent of students are ELLs. I also learn that the same is true of Brooklyn’s P.S. 119 Amersfort, while P.S.119 in the Bronx has 22 percent English Language Learners.

The textbook mentions how SIFE (Students with Interrupted Formal Educations) kids have additional difficulties, including a lack of familiarity with formal schooling. Bang, Suarez-Orasco and O’Connor (2011) noted that students who lack strong literacy skills in their first language also have greater difficulties learning English, as they have less of a foundational knowledge about how language functions. They list the additional pitfalls for ELLs and SIFE kids: a higher likelihood of poverty, which corresponds with a lack of resources; limited parental support (often because the parents lack the necessary background knowledge to be able to help); and incentives to focus their energies on nonacademic tasks with more immediate awards. Teachers will need to learn how to help the students who struggle with so much.

It would be difficult to divide ELLs equally in New York City schools since so many schools are zoned, so an area with a higher percentage of immigrants is going to have more ELLs in the local schools. Demographics will differ for Chinatown and Spanish Harlem. ELLs would also have a difficult time getting into any school that requires examinations, and the parents are less likely to have the institutional knowledge to take advantage of any school choice.

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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