National English center vision of ASU West prof
The Arizona Republic
May. 24, 2006

Laura Houston
2nd language-learners lacking 'real-world' aid

Professors, students and school district educators recently gathered at Arizona State University at the West campus to discuss better methods to teach English as a second language.

This was the first step toward developing a national center focused on researching and improving instruction for students of English at the west Phoenix campus, said Yolanda De La Cruz, associate professor of elementary education.

Within five years, De La Cruz hopes to see the center emerge as an authority on ESL instruction, allowing students, faculty and experts to learn from each other in an effort to help students all too often left on the fringes of education, she said. Academic English is different from conversational language, and that's a distinction that is too seldom made in the classroom, De La Cruz said.

"We're leaving them (ESL students) out of the picture, and we're not dealing with their confusion, their trying to make sense of the academic world," she said.

For years, Arizona has been embroiled in a lawsuit alleging that the state is inadequately funding ESL programs.

That's an example of how politicized the issue of teaching English learners has become, De La Cruz said.

In the meantime, teachers instruct to a standardized test, confidence levels of ESL students plummet and dropout rates soar among them, she said.

"We're helping them fail," De La Cruz said.

According to the state Department of Education, dropout numbers among Hispanic students have gradually decreased since 2002, falling to 5.6 percent in 2005.

Among ethnic groups in the state, those numbers are second only to Native American students, who see a dropout rate of 7.9 percent, according to the department's Web site.

"We're turning out students that know how to take a test. They're not critical thinkers. They're memorizing rules," De La Cruz said.

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