English language learners

Rebeca Burciaga is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and a member of the Core Faculty for the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education at San José State University. Dr. Burciaga’s research centers on understanding and challenging educational practices and structures that (re)produce social inequalities for historically marginalized communities, including/specifically Latino students.  Her research in schools and communities spans over 20 years and includes mixed-methods research on pathways from preschool to the professoriate, the experiences of students who leave high school before graduation, and the ways in which geographic regions structure inequalities. She specializes the study of qualitative research methodologies including testimonio and ethnography. Her current research and teaching is focused on cultivating asset-based mindsets in teachers and administrators that work with youth of color.  Dr. Burciaga is a co-founder and co-coordinator of the Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice. She has an undergraduate degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz, a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a Ph.D. in Education from the University of California at Los Angeles.  Her research has been supported and recognized by the Spencer Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the National Institute of Health, and the American Association of University Women. Her most recent scholarship can be found in Equity & Excellence in Education, the Association of Mexican American Educators Journal, and the Educational Administration Quarterly.

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Adai Tefera’s research focuses on improving educational policies for diverse learners with dis/abilities. She is particularly interested in understanding the socio-historical, political, and cultural dimensions that shape policies and impact learning. A second strand of her research focuses on knowledge mobilization, an emerging field that aims to increase the impact and use of research by utilizing interactive strategies that target wide audiences, including educators, policy makers, community organizers, parents, and students. She is specifically interested in knowledge mobilization efforts that advance equity in education.

Taucia Gonzalez is a doctoral candidate at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University in the Curriculum and Instruction program with a concentration in special education. She is interested in expanding literacy practices for language minority students with learning disabilities. More specifically, her work examines how Latina/o language minority students engage in literacy across in- and out-of-school contexts.

Cueponcaxochitl’s research draws on decolonial and socio-cultural theories to examine Ancestral Computing for environmental, economic and social sustainability. Ancestral Computing for sustainability is an ecosystems approach to solving complex problems by interweaving Ancestral Knowledge Systems and computer science. She is a Xicana scholar activist who applies the interdisciplinary frameworks, coloniality of power and figured worlds, to analyze identity formations and civic engagement across learning environments (formal and informal). Her research informs various areas of work such as foundations, teacher preparation programs, curriculum studies and policy in computer science education.

Sarah Alvarado Díaz is a research assistant for Equity Alliance and a first-year doctoral student in the Learning, Literacies and Technologies program, with a special interest in students who are labeled as English language learners, as students who receive special education services, and in particular, looking at disproportionate numbers of English language learners being referred for special education services or being placed in special education programs.  Prior to coming to ASU as a full-time student she worked as an elementary school teacher in a South Phoenix school for sixteen years, where she worked with first through third grade students, and many years as a dual language teacher, in English and Spanish.  

This blog is written from the perspective of our four voices combined. You will see that the lines between our stories are blurred. Our combined experiences in policy and teaching in diverse settings is weaved into the voice of one person with four intersectional paths of theory and practice. Read more

Wayne E. Wright, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where he directs the Teaching English as a Second Language Program and teaches courses related to ELL teaching, literacy, assessment, policy, and research. A former bilingual, ESL, and SEI teacher in southern California, Wright received his PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from Arizona State University in 2004. His dissertation on the intersection of federal and state policies for ELLs in Arizona was awarded 1st place in the Outstanding Dissertation competition of the National Association for Bilingual Education. Wright is author of the widely used textbook Foundations for Teaching English Language Learners: Research, Theory, Policy, and Practice (Caslon, 2010) and numerous published articles in leading academic journals and books on policy and practices in language minority education. He is co-editor of the forthcoming Handbook of Bilingual and Multilingual Education (Wiley-Blackwell).

March 29, 2013 was a disappointing day for those who care about the education of English language learners (ELLs). Judge Collins of the Federal District Court for the District of Arizona issued a new ruling in the case Flores v. Arizona—a 21-year old lawsuit originally filed in 1992. This new decision overturned (vacated) the Court’s January 2000 ruling that the State’s programs for ELLs were a violation of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act (EEOA) because funding of ELL programs was “arbitrary and capricious,” and inadequate to address students’ needs. While the case is specific to Arizona, the implications are nationwide.

Despite this recent defeat, great credit is due to attorney Timothy M. Hogan, Executive Director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest. For over 2 decades Hogan and the Flores decision have been a thorn in the side of the Arizona legislature and Department of Education, forcing policymakers to acknowledge and address the needs of ELLs. The original decision led to the Flores Consent Decree in August 2000 in which the state outlined concrete steps to address issues of ELL program inadequacy and monitoring. It also led to some increases in state funding for ELLs, though never to an acceptable level.

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Liz King is Legislative Director for Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-Pa).  She has worked in this office since 2005, prior to which she taught middle school in Philadelphia with Teach For America for two years.  In her current role she coordinates the Congressman’s legislative agenda and advises him on education, health and social policy.  She is passionately committed to improving access and outcomes in education and to ensuring that all students’ potential is realized.  She is especially excited about the changing American demographics and the potential to bring new thinking and new thinkers to old problems.  Believing that there should always be a strong link between practice and policy, Liz volunteers as a one-on-one tutor and as a classroom volunteer.  She holds a BA in Government and Religion from Wesleyan University and an MS in Elementary Education from St. Joseph’s University.

In 2002, when President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) into law, it became official policy of the United States government that all students attending public schools (with the exception of students with the most significant disAbilities) meet grade level standards by the year 2014.  For the first time, the basic expectation most parents of middle class, White, typically abled children have of their neighborhood school now applied to all classrooms, schools and districts without adjusting for race, income, first language, or IEP.  I believe that this is the most important step towards real equity for all students at the federal level since the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case desegregated schools in 1954. Read more

Dr. Carole Cobb is an accomplished curriculum designer, program developer, and coalition builder with over thirty combined years of successful teaching and administrative experiences as a public school educator, university professor, and education consultant. She is the Executive Director of Sankofa Education Alliance, a non-profit training and consulting company, whose mission is “creating healthy learning and living environments for children to excel, families to thrive, and communities to flourish”. Recently, Dr. Cobb served for four years in the Los Angeles Unified School District as its K-12 District Coordinator concentrating her efforts on eliminating educational disparities for Standard English Learners (SELs) and providing professional learning opportunities for administrators, teachers, support staff, and parents in cultural responsive educational practices to ensure equitable access to quality education for these historically underserved students.

Standard English Learners Defined

Standard English Learners (SELs) represent a population of students whose ancestral or home languages reflect unique cultural and linguistic histories other than English, and differ in structure and form from the language of school [i.e. mainstream standard American or academic English]. Their languages incorporate English vocabulary while embodying phonology, grammar, and sentence structure rules transitioned from various indigenous languages including African languages, Native American languages, Hawaiian languages, and Latin American Spanish. These languages relexify English vocabulary into their respective ancestral linguistic structure; however, because their primary language is now English, they are classified as English Only. Subsequently, these “language and linguistically-different” students do not receive the instructional support they need to become proficient in school language or mainstream Standard American English. Historically marginalized, Standard English Learners have been academically underserved in both K-12 and post-secondary educational settings.

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Sonia NietoSonia Nieto is Professor Emerita of Language, Literacy, and Culture at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she taught for 25 years. Before that, she was a junior high and elementary school teacher. She has written widely on issues of multicultural education and on the education of students of diverse backgrounds, and she has written numerous books, journal articles, and book chapters on these topics.

Sometimes as soon as I step foot in a school, I can tell of its commitment, or lack of commitment, to affirming the diversity of their students. Some things are obvious, of course: posters, bulletin boards, the nature of the books in the library, the diversity of the staff, and the language or languages displayed in the school – not only whether the home language or languages of your students are visible, but also the tone of signs in the building such as “Visitors must go to Principal’s Office,” versus “Welcome to our school! Please stop by the Principal’s Office to let us know you’re here.” Other things are less obvious: whether there is a consistent and committed outreach to all families; the curriculum and how it actually unfolds in the classroom; and whether or not students’ identities are truly accepted and honored.

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Dr. Cobb is the Administrative Coordinator for Los Angeles Unified School District’s Office of Academic English Mastery/Standard English Learner Programs. Its mission is two-fold: to eliminate educational disparities for African American, Mexican American, Native American, and Hawaiian American students; and to train teachers, administrators, and support staff in cultural responsiveness to ensure equitable access to quality education for historically under-served students.  For twenty years Dr. Cobb has been an independent training consultant, providing training in culturally relevant and responsive education; change management; leadership development; strategic planning; and coalition building.

Who are Standard English Language Learners?

Standard English Learners (SELs) are students for whom Standard English is not native, whose home languages differ in structure and form from the language of school [i.e. standard American or academic English]. These students are generally classified as “English Only” African American, Hawaiian American, Mexican American, and Native American because their home language incorporates English vocabulary while embodying phonology, grammar, and sentence structure rules transitioned from indigenous/native languages other than English including African languages, Native American languages, Hawaiian languages and Latin American Spanish.

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OlgaOlga Vásquez is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of California, San Diego. Her research examines the intersection of literacy, language, and culture in intercultural settings. As an ethnographer of education, her work covers bilingual education, culturally responsive curriculum, and access to educational resources by underrepresented groups. Over the last five years, she has been increasingly interested in the ways institutional linkages between the university and community facilitate the exchange of knowledge between two dissimilar cultural groups while focusing on how language and culture influence learning and development in after-school educational settings. Currently, she is involved in the study of sustainable innovative educational activities that provide a range of literacy activities through computer and telecommunication technology.

Every year, I teach a course called Bilingual Communication offered through the Department of Communication at the University of California, San Diego. Every year, language diversity in this class gets ever more pronounced and more interesting. Over the last ten years, I have noticed a very visible shift from a majority of Anglo and Latino students with a sprinkling of Asian students to a high percentage of Asian students with a sprinkling of Anglos and Latinos. Today, Asian students make up 48-52% of the student population at UCSD and a slightly higher percentage in this class. Forty of the 70 students enrolled in the course during the first quarter of 2010 represented a variety of Asian language groups with varying degrees of English fluency. In total, 18 languages were spoken fluently among class members. A total of 20 languages were used at home, and among class participants’ grandparents there were a total of 27 languages spoken. Only three students were monolingual English speakers. Spanish was the second most spoken language in the classroom following English. The visibility of Spanish was not because Latinos were highly represented but because Asian students and students of others ethnicities typically chose Spanish as their language of choice in high school.
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Zentella picAna Celia Zentella, Ph.D., was born and raised in the South Bronx by a Puerto Rican mother and Mexican father, taught at City University of NYC for several decades before moving to the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego, where she is now Professor Emerita. Zentella is an anthro-political linguist, well known for her research on U.S.Latino varieties of Spanish and English, language socialization, bilingualism, “Spanglish”, and “English-only” laws. Zentella is presently the Lang Visiting Professor for Issues in Social Change at Swarthmore College (2009-2010), where she is working with her students on the publication of Multilingual Philadelphia: Portraits of Language and Social Justice

I am a proud product of New York City’s public schools in the Bronx where I attended school from kindergarten through high school, as well as college.. It wasn’t a safe or easy journey from my Puerto Rican and Mexican home in the South Bronx to completion of a graduate degree and a Phi Beta Kappa key.  I am eternally grateful to the teachers who helped me along this difficult journey.  But that was decades ago, and in many ways the journey for the children of immigrants and other linguistically and racially different groups has become even more dangerous.

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Dr. Sally Nathenson-MejíaDr. Sally Nathenson-Mejía is an Associate Professor in the Literacy, Language and Culturally Responsive Teaching program at the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Education & Human Development. Her research in secondary education for English learners is conducted in collaboration with a team of professors and educators working on two National Professional Development grants. Her research in the field of K-5 English learners’ literacy development is conducted in collaboration with teachers and administrators in the Denver metropolitan area. Dr. Nathenson-Mejia is co-author, with Dr. Maria Uribe, of the book Literacy Essentials for English Language Learners (2008). Together they are researching building-wide literacy initiatives for schools with high English learner populations. She presents and does workshops nationally on K-5 English learners’ literacy development and instructional implications.

In this space, over the past several months, educators have discussed how we must attend to the needs of English language learners and to the professional development models we are using to build capacity among teachers for working with ELL students. I would like to build on the ideas and knowledge of previous contributors by discussing efforts we are making at the University of Colorado Denver to address both of these concerns.

What is the relationship between Professional Development and student engagement/achievement?

“…students’ achievement will not improve unless and until we create schools and districts where all educators are learning how to significantly improve their skills as teachers and as instructional leaders” (Wagner et al, 2006, pg. 23).

As university faculty who specialize in teaching English learners and providing professional development for teachers, we get excited about the prospect of working with districts to help all educators improve. We want to be involved with school administrators and teachers as they find ways to impact the engagement and achievement of ELL students. It is this excitement that led us to the work we are doing with two Colorado districts that have high populations of English learners.

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