Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why ESOL is Targeted

In response to a discussion we started on Citizen Tom, I've decided to post here so I wouldn't hijack his thread. The argument is that ESOL classes are too expensive and that tax payers should not fund them.

However, if immigration policies are reformed at the Federal levels, then they need to include more monies for ESOL classes--or even better, education in general to be used as necessary. Bush, if you recall in his policy that was rejected last year, wanted to implement at least free online courses for ESOL students. This was a start. But regardless of immigration debates, education requires more federal funding in general to address the needs of all students.

What most people don't understand is that ESOL is just one way of teaching English. It's an academic approach targeting specific skills. Adult native speakers, for example, can work on remedial skills and GED prep if they need it through Adult Education. They do this in a specific class. And many people, native speakers, NEED this service because they didn't get what they needed in the public school system for whatever reason.

Note high numbers, around 80% of adult learners, come to adult ed with learning disabilities, more often than not, undiagnosed and unaddressed; this accounts for many high numbers in adult remedial education classes, ESOL and otherwise.

Other students, including those in the general K-12 classroom, come in at different levels, all requiring instruction aimed at those levels. You can go into any elementary school class and see as many as 10 levels of readers all in one class with one teacher and only one parent volunteer.

Here's my point: ALL students require specific instruction from professionals. ALL students require different approaches. The labels ESOL/LD etc. have given us the impression that these people are different and a hardship on our system when in fact they are just part of a diverse system.

School budgets don't even distinguish between ESOL funding and "regular" funding (see comments--I stand corrected on this) because academically, the distinction makes no sense except to people who want to make the distinction for whatever reason (including bragging that we are chasing out immigrants and reducing our costs). ESOL students are often divided into what are perceived as "special classes," but this division is not fiscal--it is logistical. The fact is, some students move to different level classes of all kinds and have not left at all.

If we had smaller classes or more teachers in a class and we didn't have external labeling of our funding the way we do now, we wouldn't even be having this argument because there would be no distinction or labeling of different needs. And I don't believe there SHOULD be. Students are students--each student is unique. Teachers try to teach in ways that make sense to the individual, just as they do with more remedial and other level students. But one teacher doesn't and cannot address individual needs of students, no matter what their levels.

Look at it another way. You have students called "gifted." Would you suggest cutting the "gifted" program"? If so, would you expect the teacher or a co-teacher to teach to the "gifted" level of those students in the general classroom? I would. "Gifted" is just one more label we put on the general population, one more approach to teaching. Gifted students have been separated for logistical reasons.

ESOL, an approach to teaching, has become inextricably mixed up with heated debates over illegal immigration and it should NOT be because the real argument is, "If we want immigrants or anyone else to learn, we need more Federal funding to get it done." We can't expect charities to do it--that's how it's done in many of those "third world countries" we criticize so much, remember?

Education in all forms are not priorities in this country. Personalized, individualized instruction is not valued.

Want evidence that education is not valued? If it were, we wouldn't have crowded schools. We wouldn't have one teacher trying to take on 10 reading levels in a classroom. We would not have the majority of our college grads being hung with the albatross of out-of-control student loans.

ESOL funding is a straw man argument for people who do not want to acknowledge the learning needs of the individual. Until the federal government fixes its immigration policies, education and students will continue to be drawn into the debate. Do we really want our students suffering at the hands of an inadequate federal government? I think not.
Post a Comment