Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Multicultural Santas! Take the good and make it your own.

According to a Fox newscaster Santa and Jesus were both white - now there's some hard-hitting journalism for you.  Thankfully this pronouncement hasn't stopped people from other cultures from building on the good that Santa can do for those in need.  In Texas there are three Pancho Claus'. One wears a serape, sombrero and long grey beard.  He visits schools, churches, parks and supermarkets and gives gifts and fruit to children.  He is supported and loved by his community and his Pancho Claus outfit helps him coordinate giving to those in need.  The second Pancho Claus in Texas has a totally different take on the outfit - he wears a red and black zoot suit, fedora hat and drives a low rider while throwing out stuffed animals to the children.  And finally, the Pancho Claus in San Antonio wears a sombrero and red Santa outfit while walking with his burro and cart filled with turkeys and trimmings for 50 needy families.  One of the exciting things for me about experiencing other cultures is examining how and why I do things as an American midwesterner and how and why others do things in their culture.  The best part is taking the good from whatever culture you're in and mixing it together to make it your own.  A Pancho Claus seems like the perfect way to co-opt what some see as an exclusive white privilege, make it your own and bring kindness and giving to your own community.  The next step will be for mainstream Americans to start seeing the beautiful traditions in cultures different from their own and start integrating them in meaningful ways.  What if mainstream Americans decided that celebrating New Year's was about more than drinking and eating too much and then setting a goal to lose 20 pounds?  What cultural traditions have you experienced that you recommend for mainstream Americans?  How might that benefit our society?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Advocating for EL Success with Common Core Standards

Diane Staehr Fenner has an excellent two-part blog post about our role as educators in advocating for the success of EL's within a Common Core framework.  Check out the full text here.  She rightly points out that many people are looking at Common Core assessments and freaking out a bit (my words) that ELs won't be able to be successful on the exams with higher standards.  Many ESL and Bilingual teachers want to hit their heads in frustration, shout "DUH!" in big letters and point out that quality instruction and support for ELs has been lacking for YEARS and the new test is not the problem. Diane goes on to provide guidance on starting within your "sphere of influence" - realistically - who can you collaborate with to start changing instruction and systemic practices to increase EL academic achievement?

Unfortunately, in my experience as an ESL teacher, this was a pretty small sphere.  Sympathetic and professional classroom teachers were a good bet, but administration was often looking for "compliance" rather than actual change.  The unspoken question was, "What is the least amount of instructional disruption and cost we can commit to while still seeing results for ELs?"  This hidden agenda often resulted in more "interventions" because, "after all, ELs need to build reading skills too and that's language."  Or, it resulted in collaborative teaching models where the ESL teacher becomes more of a paraprofessional supporting content than a teacher of language.  So the reality of the unspoken question is that there has rarely been a big jump in success for ELs because we've always been trying to find the lowest common denominator and good-hearted, dedicated teachers have had to carry the burden of "finding a way" to address language instruction for ELs.  What if the question were changed to (and spoken), "What do EL students need instructionally to succeed and what can our system (admin, teachers, paraprofessionals) realistically commit to in order to make it happen?"  I believe if an educational team is willing to honestly address this question, then they will benefit from the "EL Equity Audit" tool Diane shares in her post.  In fact, I know there have been sites that have really investigated this question and developed successful models to support their ELs.  If you have been fortunate enough to work in one - I'd love to hear about it.  How did you get there?  How do you get buy in?  How did you decide what was right for your educational system?  

In the meantime, check out Diane's blog and keep advocating for high standards for ELs - the students have the ability, even if we lack the capacity!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Native Language testing in NY! This is big!!

I never thought the day would come when a state would be brave enough to step forward and do what's right and offer high stakes tests in a student's first language! Testing culture has conveniently ignored the fact that any test given in a language a student doesn't understand is not a reliable measurement of what they know!  Any English language dominant person who doesn't believe that should try to take a biology test in Arabic, or try to complete third grade level math word problems in Tagalog.   That said, New York is slaying the testing dragon (or perhaps fighting windmills - we'll see as time progresses) and taking the step to offer Language Arts assessments in Spanish since the majority of their students are Spanish speaking.  They are focusing on students who have Spanish literacy skills and have been in the US less than five years.  Of course - the matter of instruction comes up quickly - Will the students do well on a Spanish language exam if they haven't received instruction in that language?  This is problematic, but in my experience testing leads everything in education - so, "If we build it, they will come..."   Start with the test and then discover that we need instruction in this area and provide students with quality bilingual content instruction!  To read the article visit Learning Language.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A new resource for EL Advocacy

Ok - I love gadgets.  I've been wanting to play with a new one for awhile - Scoop It! is a combo newsclip/Twitter feed type program that allows you to "curate" on topics of your interest.  Mine is EL Advocacy of course - so I put a link to the electronic newsletter on my blog and here's the direct link if you're so inclined to bookmark it.  :)  http://www.scoop.it/t/eladvocacy    I hope to be able to quickly post the things that strike my fancy regarding ELLs so others will be informed and better able to advocate too!  :D

Friday, July 19, 2013

What? NCLB is in the news?

It seems like NCLB has slipped quietly into the night while Race to the Top stepped forward and did a victory dance.  However, NCLB (which is really the federal ESEA law) is technically still in place and Race to the Top has been an end-run move to avoid disaster.  Now the legislature has taken up NCLB again to hopefully re-authorize this law that is well overdue for reauthorization.   See this article for more details on how NCLB changes (largely Republican supported) would affect ELLs.

ELLs and the Debate Over the No Child Left Behind Rewrite

Basically the reauthorized law would back way off on accountability measures by removing the teacher evaluation requirement (it would be optional), eliminating target proficiency for subgroups (including ELLs), allowing for more assessment information rather than just state assessments, and allowing a three-year waiver for newly arrived ELLs before having to take state assessments.   This is a pretty drastic turn-around from a group that started the "big stick" approach to educating all children with NCLB in 2001.  Interestingly, Democrats largely favor a version of the bill that is a tweaking of Race to the Top which some have come to describe as NCLB on steroids - more teacher evaluation, more rigorous achievement targets for subgroups, etc....   Now I'm really confused.  Where's the law that will guarantee a quality education for every child?  How does that happen?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Teachers are awesome!

I've been working in Baltimore with AFT teachers on how to meet the needs of ELLs. I love the passion and determination of teachers. They are creative and make a difference for students every day. Failure is not an option. They introduced me to Kid President - check out the video and share how you make the works a better place. http://youtu.be/l-gQLqv9f4o

Thursday, May 9, 2013

ELL Dropouts - what are we doing about it?

According to a new report published by the California Dropout Research Project ELL students are twice as likely to drop out as their native English speaking peers.  When I first read this it didn't shock me - and then I thought about it and it shocked me that it didn't shock me.  Why do we just accept this?  Why has a culture of low expectations been built around ELLs?  In the report by Rebecca Callahan, she sites the fact that many ELLs are in separate ELL classes much of their day and do not receive enough content instruction.  She encourages the use of the students' primary language to ensure more content knowledge.  I also dream of a day when all teachers are able to provide rigorous academic content instruction based on the student's English proficiency level.  We have the standards, we have the knowledge... do we have the skills - and more importantly - do we believe it can happen?  Are we willing to work hard to make it happen? To read more click this link  Stemming the Tide of English Learner Dropouts

Thursday, May 2, 2013

DREAM act passes House in MN!

The DREAM act is on the verge of reality and it restores my faith in MN that's almost reality here. See this news article for updates.


I remember attending a meeting with other educators about advocating for the DREAM act in MN - 15 years ago! There were undocumented students there working hard on the issue. Since it took 15 years to get this far - I wonder where they are now? Did they get a chance at their dream? I think about what I'm advocating for now- fair testing, equal access, quality communication with families, all educators taking responsibility for ELLs learning, and much more. what if it takes 15 years? What factors and actions can speed up this process? How does change happen?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

More Equity Needed for ELLs - MALDEF Leader Requests Commission

Recently the U.S. Government released a report, Reversing the Rising Tide of Inequality, that made recommendations for programs and spending that would address inequities in educational quality for students living in poverty.  Recommendations included:

  • Urging the U.S. Department of Education to design a Race to the Top competition to reward states that overhaul school funding formulas that would distribute money based on the actual needs of students and not where their schools are located.
  • Pushing for more federal civil rights investigations and compliance reviews of states and schools districts where disparities in per-pupil spending, as well as in distribution of resources such as access to college-preparatory courses and effective teachers, have been persistent.

Thomas A. Saenz, the president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) said that more attention needed to be paid to the needs of ELLs, which weren't addressed in this report.  He wants a commission to look at how Federal Title III funds - designed to meet the needs of ELLs- can be used more effectively and equitably between states.  There are issues with how students are counted and also how funds are used to address needs.  Some states, such as New Jersey, do a "weighted" funding support model and provide up to $4,000 - $5,000 more per school to more realistically address the costs associated with educating ELLs.   
For more detailed information click this link to the article:  Federal Commission for ELLs.  I'm hoping with the increased focus on ELD and Common Core standards and the awareness that ELLs aren't going to achieve by receiving the same level of support and kinds of instruction they've been receiving, that there will be some increased political pressure to investigate what works and require consistent application of the findings.

Monday, April 15, 2013


This weekend I had the opportunity to network with dedicated, talented, energetic ESL teachers from a variety of grade levels.  We had the MinneTESOL Elementary Group "Spring Fling" and the theme was advocacy.  My favorite!  Teachers discussed their teaching situations, how to use data to improve ELL support, effective instructional practices and much more.  We were also honored to share the Spring Fling event with a newly formed standing committee, "MinneSLIFE" - (Students with Limited Interrupted Formal Education) and they had packed sessions on refugee issues and effective instruction for students with low academic skills.  I'm going to post links to my powerpoints and begin sharing more research and resources on advocacy.  I've been inspired and I realize there is so much advocacy teachers are trying to do on their own and anything I can do to share resources will help.  Please let me know if there is anything you're especially interested in to help you with your advocacy activities!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

"Remember, this is not just a a debate about policy, it's about people." - President Obama

President Obama seems to be committing himself and his administration more deeply in the immigration debate - specifically legal pathways to citizenship. His support for the DREAM act a few years ago was almost enough to get it passed but it failed in Congress at the last minute. Perhaps this is his "Thank You" to the 70% of Latinos who voted for him - whatever the case - I am encouraged by his leadership on this issue. I am also encouraged that many Republicans seem to have woken from their long sleep in a world where everyone is white and powerful and noticed that Latinos are a powerful voting block and maybe they should pay attention to their needs. There seems to be hope for a bipartisan bill at last. While I'm a little too cynical to believe any politician is advocating for this change due to the goodness of their hearts, I'm willing to accept the efforts at face value and support their efforts as long as I think there is true reform. I want undocumented residents to have the opportunity for a full life in America - not a band aid that allows them a few years and then need to be re-evaluated for worthiness. Here is a link to the full article and I've included a few interesting facts from the article below.


To put that a bit more in perspective: In 2011, there were more than 40 million immigrants in the U.S., a record number, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Of those, 11 million are undocumented, a number that fell from a peak of 12 million in 2007. Roughly 1 million unauthorized immigrants are under the age of 18.

And every year, American high schools produce 65,000 graduates who are unauthorized immigrants, according to the College Board.