Language teachers needed
June 10, 2006
send in a letter in response to this editorial in Boston Globe.
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
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
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.