Published on July 23, 2014
CLOSING ACHIEVEMENT GAPS IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS 1 Closing Achievement Gaps in U.S. Public Schools: Exploring Global Models of Language Education Meghan J. Lee Kennesaw State University July 2014
CLOSING ACHIEVEMENT GAPS IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS 2 Closing Achievement Gaps in U.S. Public Schools: Exploring Global Models of Language Education The U.S. public education system is experiencing a significant increase in the population of students that are identified as English Language Learners (ELL) referred to in this essay as language minority students. The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics’ Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) from the 1999-2000 school year showed that 0.31% of all students enrolled in public schools nationwide were identified as ELL. The 2011- 2012 school year’s SASS results indicated the language minority student population had increased to 9.2% of the entire student population enrolled in the U.S. public school system. With such a significant increase in language minority students, the achievement gap in public education in the United States has widened not only between ELL and native speakers, but also between the United States and many other countries that participate in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). It is common knowledge in the education field that the Latino population is the least educated of all the U.S. minorities; moreover, Latino learners hold the place as the second largest group of students served in U.S. public school. This widening achievement gap in U.S. public education requires a reformation of current policies and instructional practices to emulate the proven success of other nations that have focused on increased investment in their own public education systems with equitable division of funding for schools and wraparound social programs and improved instructional practices that offer culturally and linguistically sustaining
CLOSING ACHIEVEMENT GAPS IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS 3 pedagogy with an emphasis on open-ended performance-based assessment rather than restrictive accountability measures. Examination of U.S. Instructional Models for Language Minority Students The United States has a history of viewing the languages and cultures of students of color as being undesirable. All prior U.S. educational models “fell in line with White, middle-class norms” (Paris, 2012, p. 93). Cultural and linguistic experiences of students of color were replaced by whatever the educating body deemed to be the desired norm. This deficit model for minority students continued until the 1970s and 1980s when the deficit viewpoint relented to the difference approach that posited minority experiences were equal to, but different from the dominant culture and language of policymakers. Both models focused on the loss of the heritages, cultures, and languages of minority students to ensure that they would “succeed in American schooling” (Paris, 2012, p. 94). Ladson-Billings introduced the concept of culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP) in 1995 as a step in the right direction towards the celebration of diversity within education in the United States. Recent research has offered updated viewpoints on the terminology of CRP and additional insights into the theory of culturally sustaining pedagogy that supports a “multiethnic and multilingual present and future” for learners (Paris, 2012). In fact, Ladson-Billings (2014) has even offered a “re-mix” of her original theory of CRP after reading Django Paris’ modern reflection on her culturally relevant pedagogy theory. Prior to the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, some urban public schools in the United States were utilizing bilingual education programs with their students quite successfully; however, a recent research study titled “No Child Left Bilingual: Accountability and the Elimination of Bilingual Education in New York City Schools” conducted by Kate
CLOSING ACHIEVEMENT GAPS IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS 4 Menken and Cristian Solorza (2012) found a “causal link between the pressures of test-based accountability imposed [by the] No Child Left Behind Act” and a rapid transition to “English- only policies in city schools” (p. 1). Many New York City schools feared being labeled as low performing and did not want to risk sanctions such as closure by enrolling and educating language minority students. Thus, the schools transitioned to shortsighted ESL programs as they struggled to meet the strict accountability measures such as annual yearly progress (AYP) on state exams and graduation rates that were required for funding through NCLB and the subsequent “Race to the Top” federal program that provides grants to selected states. Unfortunately, the schools that serve language minority students often ended up on the “Schools In Need of Improvement” lists due to these students’ poor results on required standardized tests that the state administered for strict accountability purposes (Merken & Solorza, 2012, p. 11). Accordingly, the lack of instruction in the students’ native languages and the negative attention placed on them by inappropriate accountability measures, blatantly contradicted extensive research that indicates that many bilingual students are able to successfully “engage in hybrid language practices” that guides them in the cultivation of “bilingual/bicultural academic identities that would support their continuing success in school” (Palmer & Martinez, 2013, p. 269). Furthermore, this extensive research indicates that language minority students that have had the opportunity to “develop their home languages in school are likely to outperform their peers in English-only programming and succeed academically” (Menken & Solorza, 2012, p. 6). Unfortunately, many U.S. school districts lack qualified teachers for bilingual and ESL programs and as a result, turn to the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) model as a possible solution to address the learning needs of an ever-increasing population of language minority students in their communities with mediocre results. Short & Echevarria (1999) stated
CLOSING ACHIEVEMENT GAPS IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS 5 that the SIOP offered a “venue for learning about second language acquisition and for understanding the challenge English language learners face each day as they study multiple subjects through their non-native language” (p. 18). Thus, Walters (2013) concluded that the paucity of research on the effectiveness of the SIOP model should not prevent school districts from using it as a professional development tool; however, it must be noted that this research study resulted in non-SIOP trained teachers outperforming those that were trained in the SIOP model and thus, suggested that the strategies assessed may simply be only effective instructional practices known as “Just Good Teaching” rather than being unique to SIOP (Walters, 2013, p. 8). Consequently, while the SIOP model offers teachers a proven set of strategies for instructing language minority students as well as monolingual learners, it falls short of encouraging teachers to “find ways to develop students’ primary language skills” and additionally, overlooks the “dynamics of interaction in bilingual classrooms” (Palmer & Martinez, 2013, p. 273). With diverse cultural and linguistic educational experiences being the norm worldwide, the fact remains that many U.S. public schools are relying on instructional models that do not value multiethnic and multilingual student experiences and seldom offer student-directed learning opportunities in schools that serve low-income students. This has a negative outcome on the academic achievements of most language minority students since they make up a large population in schools that serve low-income families. Current practices in U.S. public schools demonstrated that student-centered learning often occurred more in schools that serve affluent and middle-class students than in schools that serve low-income families (Darling-Hammond, Friedlaender, & Snyder, 2014, p. 2). The restrictive federal policies such as NCLB and the Race to the Top prevent schools that serve low-income students from engaging in these successful
CLOSING ACHIEVEMENT GAPS IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS 6 models for learning because they are too busy focusing on increasing students’ test scores on the mandated exams. The recent adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and associated assessments are creating even greater challenges for schools that serve students from low-income families. In order to close the opportunity gap that arises from the disparities between the educational practices of schools in high-SES and low-SES communities, there must be support for student learning, extensive professional development, and collaboration at multiple levels (Darling-Hammond, Friedlaender, & Snyder, 2014, p. 5). A recent OECD report on international education achievement noted that the nations that had improved the most had invested a higher portion of “education resources in schools that serving the most disadvantaged students” (Darling-Hammond, Friedlaender, & Snyder, 2014, p. 6). Accordingly, U.S. schools provided as examples in the research study of student-centered instruction were forced to rely on outside funding to accomplish their learning goals (Darling- Hammond, Friedlaender, & Snyder, 2014, p. 6). The following sections synthesize various international examples of language minority education in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and Norway to gain alternative insights into possible reformation strategies that could be implemented to close the achievement gaps in U.S. public education for language minority learners. Investigating Global Language Education Models The following research on language education in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Norway demonstrated that while the two nations are vastly different in language, culture, and climate, they reflected a shared vision of equal education for all students, a track record of increased education and social program funding, an emphasis on performance-based open-ended
CLOSING ACHIEVEMENT GAPS IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS 7 assessment, and a focus on preparing students to join the expansive global economy of the future. South Korea shared similar goals of investment in education and preparation of students to join a global economy, but differed from the UAE and Norway by placing too much prominence overall on the acquisition of the English language to the detriment of students’ unique culture, language, and national identity (Kim, 2006). Analyzing South Korea’s Penchant for English Language Instruction The South Korean government believes that education is the pathway to success in the global economy (Kim, 2006). Yanghee Kim’s research study titled “English Fever in Korea: Impacts on the Teaching of English and Social Issues That Arise” stated that many Koreans consider learning English to be a “major concern in all areas of government, business, and education” as students prepare to master the communication skills needed to compete in the “emerging Korean global economy and society” (p. 1). In fact, many universities and employers in South Korea and abroad require students to take the Test of English for International Communication and the Test of English as a Foreign Language and attain a high proficiency score to be admitted or employed. With such high achieving cultural expectations and resulting high-stakes testing, it is no surprise that South Koreans are heavily invested in gaining English language proficiency. The research study cited above examined the social impact of English language acquisition in South Korea. Apparently, the English language accounts for at least 80% of the available content on the Internet (Kim, 2006, p. 2). The Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) method for language instruction is becoming popular in South Korea; however, it may prove to be “inappropriate to the local culture of learning [that] tends to promote mechanical learning and a lack of individualism and creative thinking” (Kim, 2006, p. 3). The eagerness of
CLOSING ACHIEVEMENT GAPS IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS 8 many Koreans to achieve English proficiency for themselves and their children has resulted in a somewhat shortsighted approach to learning and a costly endeavor as Korean families on average devote “one-third of their income to private lessons in English, art, and music” (Kim, 2006, p. 10). The national curriculum even provides access to English language instruction through native speakers through the Ministry of Education’s English Program in Korea (EPIK) that was implemented in 1995 and hires teachers from English-speaking countries to teach the language in Korean public schools, but the program has a low teacher retention rate. The Korean government utilizes a national examination that emphasizes English, math, and science as the most important subjects in the global economy. In general, students are only recognized as successful in the labor market when they attend prestigious universities, and these institutions of higher learning require excellent examination scores and high GPAs. Kim (2006) stated that students that fail to enter universities at all are condemned to low-income and low- status occupations (p. 13). As a result of the national examination process, public schools are required to follow the national curriculum, and teachers are “forced to teach to the test (Kim, 2006, p. 13). This high- stakes national testing and admission process places negative social pressure on parents to push their children to academic extremes with the heaviest burden on the students themselves to gain admission to respected universities in South Korea. Unequal access to quality English language education caused extreme gaps between Korean students’ English proficiency levels. The EPIK model is insufficient to meet the English learning needs of the students by failing to retain high quality native English-speaking teachers, and the reliance on the CLT model is not suited to the cultural norms of South Korean students. Thus, South Korean English language education offers a glimpse of the realities of putting
CLOSING ACHIEVEMENT GAPS IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS 9 money in the right places, but failing to conduct critical research on the best instructional practices for language education. In summary, while South Korea has succeeded in promoting a globalized mindset and sizeable investment in public education, the national climate towards language education in English was implemented in a negligent manner that did not take into account the unique cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic levels of Korean students and their families. Examining Compulsory Bilingual Education in the United Arab Emirates The Emirate of Abu Dhabi within the confederation of emirates known as the United Arab Emirates in the Arabian Gulf region recently implemented an extensive public education reformation plan for kindergarten and early primary grades dubbed the “New School Model” (NSM). Enacted in 2010 with the intention to extend the plan each year to cover all of the grade levels, the NSM (ADEC, 2010) was designed and is currently supervised by the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), a “supra-government education body” that operates under the guidance of the Ministry of Education in the emirate (Gallagher, 2011, p. 62). The NSM (ADEC, 2010) extended ongoing reforms in pedagogy, curriculum, and school leadership, but also introduced the English language as a mandatory instructional medium that would run parallel to Arabic language instruction. This mandatory parallel bilingual learning model was declared a “monumental step” towards achieving an internationally recognized education model in the Gulf. Kay Gallagher’s research paper cited above, titled “Bilingual Education in the UAE: Factors, Variables, and Critical Questions” explored the “macro-factors and contextual variables” inherent in compulsory bilingual schooling in the Abu Dhabi emirate (2011, p. 62). Gallagher’s focus on the wide-scale factors and indispensable inquiries regarding the side-by-
CLOSING ACHIEVEMENT GAPS IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS 10 side simultaneous bilingual model proved invaluable in the examination of the effectiveness of the educational reform taking place in the emirate. The Director-General of the Abu Dhabi Education Council stated that the goal of the New School Model is to focus on creating “bi-literate students” that can “understand, speak, read, and write in both English and Arabic” (ADEC, 2010). This mandatory bilingual education is unprecedented in the Gulf region that historically viewed English as a language of the “colonizing and bellicose west” (Gallagher, 2011, p. 63). While language education is often politicized, it is explicitly so in the Gulf region because the country was previously a “protectorate” of Great Britain before gaining independence; however, with the local population representing the minority group among a majority of expatriate workers and their families from all over the world, the Abu Dhabi emirate’s educational reform and significant investment in equitable education can be interpreted as a step towards a “multifaceted contemporary identity” for the United Arab Emirates on the world stage as a leader in progressive education reform (Gallagher, 2011, p. 73). Similar to South Korea’s universities, English dominates the Arabic language in post- secondary education in the UAE; in fact, in the nearby emirate of Dubai, it is actually impossible find tertiary education in Arabic at all (Gallagher, 2011, p. 66). It can be postulated that this emphasis on English in universities could have been a deciding factor in the implementation of compulsory English language instruction in Abu Dhabi. As Gallagher (2011) explained, the “high failure levels in English are endemic,” with diploma-level students in the UAE earning the “lowest overall scores out of twenty countries” on international benchmark exams for English proficiency levels (p. 68).
CLOSING ACHIEVEMENT GAPS IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS 11 Bilingual education in Arabic and English presents a significant burden on students’ first language acquisition because Arabic is actually a triglossic language that encompasses three varieties: colloquially spoken Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic for schools and written media, and classical Arabic necessary for Quran study. Thus, the early side-by-side partial immersion model in Abu Dhabi is a difficult undertaking. Students that lack home support for basic Arabic and/or English will need ongoing remediation. The NSM (ADEC, 2010) offers a unique opportunity to examine the outcomes of parallel bilingual education in two completely different languages. Moreover, with many teachers in the emirate not possessing high levels of bilingual proficiency in either Arabic for native English speakers, nor English for native Arabic speakers, the critical factors of professional development for faculty, inclusion of all stakeholders in the education process, the retention of high quality teachers, and a great deal of patience and flexibility will be paramount to the success of the education reform (Gallagher, 2011, p. 69). In summary, it is certainly feasible that the bilingual education model in the Abu Dhabi emirate will eventually demonstrate that multiple language literacy results in cognitive advantages, and cultivates an attitude of “open mindedness and appreciation of diversity” as long as the crucial variables that bring about such outcomes are available to all students (Gallagher, 2006, p. 71). The Ministry of Education has undertaken a bold stance in the emirate. With the assistance of the Abu Dhabi Education Council, as well as continued significant equitable funding for education and implementation of culturally and linguistically sustaining pedagogy, the education reform will be a successful one.
CLOSING ACHIEVEMENT GAPS IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS 12 Exploring Norway’s Equal Education Policies & Practices for Immigrant Students Between 1980 and 2006, Norway’s immigrant population more than tripled, according to Oystein Djupedal, the former Minister of Education and Research’s foreword written in 2007 for the “Equal Education in Practice Strategic Plan.” Djupedal’s statement further elaborated on Norway’s vision for language minority immigrant pupils. Based on the Declaration of Soria Moria developed by the Red-Green political coalition, the following five overall goals are clearly outlined in the “Equal Education in Practice Strategic Plan” for education reform in Norway: ! Improving language skills for pre-school children of linguistic minorities ! Improve learning outcomes of linguistic minority students in primary and secondary ! Increase amount of linguistic minority pupils in academic track or vocational training ! Increase the number of linguistic minority pupils enrolled & completing university ! Improve Norwegian language proficiency of language minority adults The introductory paragraphs of the strategic plan emphasize proven strategies for successful education of language minority students, as well as all types of learners. Culturally and linguistically sustaining instructional practices are mentioned along with the critical cooperation between home and school, as well as all stakeholders (Equal Education in Practice, Norwegian Ministry of Education & Research, 2007, p. 9). Thirty-eight lengthy measures are outlined in the strategic plan to assess goal achievements. One interesting measure was the free core time for pre-school linguistic minority children that provides subsidies for 15 hours per week for 8 months per child to attend local nurseries for important early learning, language, and social support. Additionally, another measure stated that individually tailored Norwegian language instructional support will be provided for language minority students, and linguistic minority teachers will be heavily
CLOSING ACHIEVEMENT GAPS IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS 13 recruited and scholarships for high quality teacher training will be awarded with more than two hundred already dispersed to candidates. Norwegian language instruction is provided in addition to home language support for primary and middle school students in hopes of promoting dual language outcomes over time. Assessment tests in seven different languages were developed to gauge whether language minority students were in need of further testing for learning disability interventions. Overall, the thirty-eight measures included benchmarks and pilot projects for every major and minor goal that was outlined in the “Equal Education in Practice Strategic Plan.” With such a large increase in language minority populations within the last approximately 35 years in Norway, it is refreshing to see that the country is embracing the multicultural realities and adopting an outlook of enrichment towards its immigrants. With such a focus on not only on schools, but also wraparound social programs to benefit the families that the schools serve, Norway is positioning itself as a leader in the successful education of language minority students by utilizing the best practices for cultural and linguistically sustaining pedagogy. Though the country is not as populous, or as economically prosperous as the United States, Norway provides an excellent example of education reform that addresses the individual needs of all students including their ever-increasing language minority immigrant population. Recommended Solutions to Close U.S. Achievement Gaps The United States would greatly benefit from following the best practices that can be found in these nations’ education models. While South Korea has neglected certain elements needed for successful language instruction, the nation demonstrates a desire to be top contenders in an increasingly global economy and a readiness to make education the first priority for future generations. Abu Dhabi’s compulsory bilingual education model and top to bottom reformation
CLOSING ACHIEVEMENT GAPS IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS 14 of their lackluster public education system offers a courageous example of investing ever- increasing amounts of money in the education of public school students in their country and a willingness to take risks in pursuing unknown outcomes for parallel bilingual teaching. Norway provides an extensively researched strategic plan for addressing the needs of their language minority population from early childhood to adulthood taking into account the nuances of such a widespread reformation. In conclusion, the widening achievement gaps in U.S. public education can be closed through the adoption of policies and instructional practices that emulate successful example nations, such as the ones discussed above, that have invested heavily in their nation’s public education systems with equal funding for schools and wraparound social programs to address the multifaceted needs of families, and revising their instructional practices to reflect culturally and linguistically sustaining pedagogy with a focus on open-ended performance-based assessment rather than an unfair system of accountability.
CLOSING ACHIEVEMENT GAPS IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS 15 References ADEC (2010), “ADEC prepares education community for monumental step in education reform,” Abu Dhabi Education Council, Abu Dhabi, Retrieved July 18, 2014 from Web. Equal Education in Practice. (2007). Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. Retrieved July 2, 2014, from Web in PDF format. Gallagher, K. (2011). Bilingual education in the UAE: factors, variables and critical questions. Education, Business and Society: Contemporary Middle Eastern Issues, 4(1), 62-79. Kim, Y. (2006). English Fever in Korea: Impacts on the teaching of English and Social issues that arise. The Internet Journal of Language, Culture, and Society, 1(16). Retrieved July 2, 2014, from Web. Ladson-Billings, G. (2014). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy 2.0: a.k.a. the Remix. Harvard Education Review, 84(1), 74-84. Menken, K., & Solorza, C. (2012). No Child Left Bilingual: Accountability and the Elimination of Bilingual Education Programs in New York City Schools. Educational Policy, 1-30. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012. Palmer, D., & Martinez, R. A. (2013). Teacher Agency in Bilingual Spaces: A Fresh Look at Preparing Teachers to Educate Latina/o Bilingual Children. Review of Research in Education, 37(1), 269-297. Paris, D. (2012). Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy: A Needed Change in Stance, Terminology, and Practice. Educational Researcher, 41(3), 93-97.
CLOSING ACHIEVEMENT GAPS IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS 16 Short, D., & Echevarria, J. (1999). The Sheltered Observation Protocol: A Tool for Teacher- Researcher Collaboration and Professional Development. Center for Research on Education, Diversity, & Excellence, 3, 1-23. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), "Public School Data File," 2011–12. Walters, A. “Exploring the Effectiveness of the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) Model.” MS thesis. State University of New York at Fredonia, 2012. Retrieved from Web.
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