Language teachers  needed
Boston Globe
June 10, 2006

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ONE STANDARDIZED test after another has found  that children from immigrant families in Massachusetts schools are having  trouble mastering English in the English immersion classes required by the  voters in 2002. That law largely ended the practice of initially teaching the  children in their own language, with some English instruction, and slowly  transitioning them to all-English classes. In most communities, that model of  bilingual education did not work well, but the test results indicate that the  new model is not succeeding either.

Immigrant children, including many  born in this country, make up just 5 percent of state enrollment, but their  numbers are growing. The state -- and these students -- do not have the  luxury of waiting for several years of disappointing failure before taking  concerted action to improve the movement of these children into mainstream  classes.

The obvious need is for many more teachers trained in the skills  of teaching English as a second language. Too many students are in classes  with teachers who might have some limited training in this area but lack the  deep background required, especially in classes that include children  speaking several languages. According to an informal survey several months ago by the state, more than half of the 52 school districts teaching the  overwhelming majority of non-native English speakers had not set up separate classes to teach English as a second language.

Recruiting, training,  and paying the ESL teachers will require a leadership role from the state,  not just the districts. At the higher-education level, the state should  ensure that the public colleges and universities that prepare many of the  state's future teachers greatly expand their ESL programs. The state should  also make sure that districts are heeding the state's expectation of a  minimum of 2.5 hours of ESL instruction daily for beginning and  early-intermediate students.

In some cases, the best way to get qualified  instructors might be to provide extensive training to regular teachers, with  the state providing funding for this, as it is doing this summer for  Worcester and Boston. If bonuses are needed to get teachers into ESL or to  attract ESL teachers from other states, the state should provide them. The  state must also do more to train regular teachers to handle students with  little English ability.

Education Commissioner David Driscoll compares  the change wrought by the 2002 law to the transformation in special education  under the state's Chapter 766 in 1974. He said the new law in English  immersion brought with it ``essentially" no money. He said, ``I think a lot  has been done. . .

 I think we have a long way to go." The state will not get  to where it should be until it gives this challenge the priority and funding  it deserves.