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SRC hears about struggle to maintain continuity in ELL programs

By Dale Mezzacappa on May 16, 2012 01:32 PM

At a School Reform Commission meeting Monday night, officials said they would do their best to avoid further cuts in programs for the District's 13,000 English language learners.

By devoting an entire two-hour meeting to the topic, the SRC signaled its commitment to prioritize this large but often-neglected segment of the District's population.

But officials also acknowledged that teacher layoffs and other budget-related decisions have taken a toll on these programs over the years.

The only special academic intervention that most ELL students receive is ESOL instruction – meaning their language arts class is English for Speakers of Other Languages.

District staff pointed to research showing that students who get additional services, including transitional bilingual education and "sheltered instruction" (in which students learn their core subjects from teachers specially trained to work with non-native English speakers) have better attendance and do better academically. But these programs are limited. Transitional bilingual education is only in four schools.

The District is cutting back its two Newcomer Learning Academies to one, which they said would serve the same number of students and have a wider range of course offerings.

"We need to figure out the systems that need to be put in place to insure programs are sustained over time," said Deborah Wei, director of multilingual curriculum and programs. "It is easy for programs to drop off the table; all it takes is one staff change."

She said that if schools were truly set up to serve immigrants, "programs wouldn't disappear."

This is still a problem even though for nearly 30 years, Philadelphia has been under a consent degree stemming from a court case to provide the proper services to non-English-speaking students. Its compliance is still subject to monitoring.

Wei also said that ESOL teachers were hit by recent teacher layoffs. Pennsylvania does not have a separate ESOL certification, so teachers who are trained in ESOL were laid off based on seniority in their official certifications.

Other issues that surfaced at the meeting:

  • Materials and notices regarding special education services are not available in several languages, nor are translators available for parent conferences.

  • The District does not employ any speakers of some African and Caribbean languages, inluding Creole and Mandinka. There are large African and Caribbean communities in West and Southwest Philadelphia. Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who represents this area, also asked about this issue Tuesday at a City Council hearing on education.

  • Some charter schools were set up to serve immigrant students, but among the rest, only 1 percent of students get ELL services.

  • Many counselors are not trained to help undocumented students understand their college and postseconday options.

  • SRC members said school leadership was the key – high-performing schools had high-performing ELL students. Yet Furness High School principal Timothy McKenna was recently tapped to lead Central High School without a replacement being named. Activists from Asian Americans United said that this now puts the progress Furness has made with its immigrant students, and the continued existence of the school itself, in jeopardy.

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Comments (9)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 17, 2012 1:39 pm

If Pennsylvania doesn't have a separate ESOL certification, why am does my state certification list me as an "ESOL program specialist"? and why am I listed as such with the district?

The culprit for cuts to ELL programs is Ms. Wei's office, who has decimated school district ESOL programs, reducing some to one-third of the staff present two years ago. Multilingual Services uses a bogus formula to inflate the number of ESOL teachers on paper that appear to be serving a particular school - but many of those teachers aren't actually teaching ESOL. Many schools have 100 ELLs and only one full-time ESOL teacher. Schools have begged for additional staff, only to be denied. They're also demanding teachers follow the ineffective "push in" method in order to exaggerate student-teacher ratios.

Pull-out and especially sheltered classes are extremely effective, but the district is unwilling to invest in them.

Submitted by Anonymous 583 (not verified) on May 17, 2012 10:11 pm

In case anyone wants to read about the Pennsylvania certification.

The District does have a separate bilingual certification which I don't believe has any equivalent with the state.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 17, 2012 6:31 pm

It is pathetic that Ms. Wei pretended Monday evening, though I am sure she read from a carefully weighed script someone else had to write, that the office she works from (OMCP) didn't exist "until a year ago" Really?! How reckless that seems in light of YS mandates from 1986. What about years and years of OLCA under Margaret Chin's lead? What about OLE before that? Change the name and administrators and call it your own. And then she laments of programs being nixed because of "a single staff change." What a hypocrite, obscenely overpaid and equally superfluous. This is a HUGE problem in SDP....tearing down the hard work of others, figuratively and literally, pretending that all credit due is yours, pretending that no one did anything until you came along to save the day. Pretending that no vast sums of money were spent and misspent every single year, in mostly vain attempts to demonstrate a successful program in light of what every expert knows are unrealistic expectations of NCLB. No legacy, no cohesion, no accountability. It starts at the top! OLCA bought new books, OMCP had them reissued, OLCA created planning and scheduling timelines, OMCP had them reissued, etc. etc. Please somebody look at the books of that office over the last 10 years! What will be different moving forward?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 18, 2012 3:49 pm

I started an ESOL program at a school with dozens of ELLs singlehandedly last year. Previously, there had been no services at all.

I was laid off, and the position was cut entirely, not even part-time. The same students were there.

They finally got someone back part-time, who only does push-in. This is not serving our students.

Time and time again, we see the same thing. We don't need to "figure out" anything. We already know what needs to be done, the district just won't do it.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on August 10, 2012 5:51 pm

Here's what needs to be done- Someone with legal expertise needs to get in touch with the parents of the ELL students at your school, and start legal proceedings against the District. The children are not receiving services that they are legally required to receive.

Submitted by mazzo55 on November 7, 2012 4:44 pm

I'm having the same problems at my end, thanks for this useful advice, I'll have a go at this again this time, with more knowledge on the matter.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 10, 2012 3:55 pm

My school's allotment of ESOL teachers has gone from four to three, now two, and recently I heard might be going down to one ESOL teacher this upcoming year.Yet the number of ESOL students is not decreasing to the same degree. Yet, I have read more than one article stating that no further cuts to ESOL teachers will be made. What a lie. The district clearly doesn't care about these important students.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 11, 2012 12:41 pm

Everyone is afraid to talk to parents. Teachers have been told over and over not to tell parents their rights, but wait until they ask for them. This group of parents, ESOL parents, have no idea how their children are being used to save the district money. They trust the school system. Their language barrier stands in the way of their inderstanding how their children are being underserved. The language.barrier also discourages them from speaking out. They need an advocate. It can't be the teachers because they will get in trouble for speaking to parents. Is there an advocate, or organization that can help these students get the services the law says they are due?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 11, 2012 7:17 pm

WHOA!! before advocating for lawsuits by parents, which should be a last resort, have you insisted on a meeting with your Principal and the ELL Manager? ESOL program compliance is admin's responsibility, not the teacher's, and I can't imagine a principal not being interested in being compliant. If, after looking together at teacher and students ESOL levels/ sections/schedules, and making necessary changes, the ESOL staffing levels still fall short, let your Principal and Manager lobby OMCP for more.

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