A couple weeks ago, the Census bureau announced that minority babies made up the majority of births in the United States in 2011. I wrote an opinion piece for today's Washington Post about why this symbolic shift should be a wake-up call for the public school system: Student demographics are changing, but policies revolving around how we instruct Engilsh language learners have yet to catch up.
I use Illinois as an example, a state that I investigated for our recent policy paper, because of its attempts to be more forward-thinking in its policies for English language-learners, starting with their time in state-funded pre-K. One teacher's story about getting extra training for teaching pre-K ELL's stood out to me:
Consider Cristina Gomez, a teacher and administrator at a preschool for low-income children in Chicago. About half of all students at Erie House speak no English when they arrive; an additional 20 percent are just beginning to learn. This school, with its high ceilings and spacious, toy-block-filled rooms, doesn’t at first look like an incubator for the country’s next generation — yet that is exactly what it is.
Last year, Gomez began taking night courses to earn credentials to teach English as a second language — credentials that Illinois will require, starting in 2014, of all pre-K teachers who instruct groups of English-language learners. “Before, I felt like I was kind of in survival mode,” Gomez told me, “just trying to get them through.”
Gomez has a master’s degree in early childhood education but says the night classes will improve her ability to teach children who speak a language other than English at home. “It’s not just a challenge for monolingual teachers but for bilingual teachers,” Gomez said. “Just because you speak the language of a child doesn’t mean you know the strategies or best practices for teaching English-language learners.”
Read the full article here. The Atlantic Wire thinks it's one of today's best 5 opinion columns.
The policy paper, Starting Early with English Language Learners: First Lessons from Illinois, is available here.