Sunday, July 12, 2015

The ELL "Problem" and the Common Core "Solution"*

Stephen Krashen

   There is a problem with ELLs/Emergent Bilinguals (henceforth ELLs), but it is not the problem that is typically stated in the media. And there is a solution, but it is very different from the one that is being currently offered by the Common Core. In fact, the Common Core promises to make things much worse for ELLs, as well as for all students in public schools today.
   According to Uro and Barrio (2013), there are two big problems with ELLs:
   The first is that ELLs aren't as proficient as fluent English speakers:  Test results show "wide gaps in reading and mathematics between ELLs and non-ELLs"  (p. 100) and that only five to six percent of ELLs score at or above proficient on fourth grade reading tests in several cities.
This kind of comment shows as astonishing lack of understanding of what an ELL is. If the results did not show gaps between ELLs and non-ELLs, the ELLs would not be ELLs.  Also, if an ELL scores at or above proficient, that ELL should not be classified as ELL.  If five percent of a group of ELLs score at or above proficient, that five percent have been misclassified.
   A second "problem" is equally irrelevant: The Great Cities reports that " ….  trend lines suggest that ELLs have not made meaningful progress academically between 2005 and 2011 …" (p. 100).  We would not expect ELLs as a group to "improve"; when ELLs make sufficient progress, they are reclassified as non-ELL. The group average test score should stay about the same.
   There are, however, real problems with ELLS: First, we are not using the best pedagogy – study after study has informed us that comprehension-based methods are far superior to skill-based methods for second language and literacy development, but much instruction remains skill-based. In addition, despite overwhelming evidence, we have not taken advantage of education in the first language, a powerful means of accelerating literacy development and making second language input more comprehensible (Crawford and Krashen, 2015).
   A second problem is the fact that a large percentage of ELLs live in poverty (Crawford, 1997; Batalova, 2006). Poverty means inadequate diets, inadequate health care, and little access to books; all of these have a devastating effect on school performance.  The best teaching in the world will not help if students are hungry, ill, and have no access to reading material.
   The Common Core will do nothing to solve these problems, and will do a lot to make things worse.  The Common Core language standards are in general hostile to a comprehension-approach to language development (Krashen, 2013), and the Common Core approach for ELLs is to force students to deal with demanding and difficult nonfiction texts in order to promote earlier mastery of "academic language" (Maxwell, 2012). There is no evidence that making reading harder produces better results and plenty of evidence that the route to academic language includes a great deal of self-selected, recreational reading, which now is nearly impossible to include in the current version of the Common Core (Krashen, 2013).
   For standards to be enforced, we must have tests, and the testing demands of the common core are incredible: In fact, the Common Core will insist on more testing than we have ever seen on this planet: The US Department of Education asserts that we will have testing at all grade levels, all subjects, interim tests, and maybe even pre-tests in the fall to be able to measure improvement through the academic year (Krashen, 2011). The tests will be administered online, an untested plan that will cost billions, and that will demand more and more taxpayer money as today's computers become obsolete, and as new "advances" in technology are developed (Krashen and Ohanian, 2011), draining money from projects and approaches that would actually help students.
   The Common Core, a product of the business world, not professional educators, is such an extreme and misguided proposal that we cannot even discuss implementation. We can only discuss resistance.

*Official title: Advocacy in Common Core State Standards Implementation: Why is there a need for advocacy for English language learners/emergent bilinguals? In: Common Core, Bilingual and English Language Learners/Emergent Bilinguals: A Resource for Teachers. In G. Valdes, K. Menken, and M. Casto (Eds). Philadelphia: Caslon Publishing (pp.147-148).

Betalova, J. 2006. Spotlight on Limited English Proficient Students in the United States.  Migration Information Source.
Crawford, J. 1997. Best evidence: Research foundations of the Bilingual Education Act. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education. Retrieved November 11, 2003, from nts
Crawford, J. and Krashen, S. 2015. English Learners in American Classrooms. Portland: DiversityLearningK12. Updated edition.
Krashen, S. 2012. How much testing? krashen-how-much-testing/
Krashen, S. 2013. Access to books and time to read versus the common core standards and tests.  English Journal 103(2): 21-39
Krashen, S, and Ohanian, S. 2011. High Tech Testing on the Way: A
21st Century Boondoggle? Living in Dialogue (Apr 8).
Maxwell, L.   2012. Language demands to grow for ELLs under new standards. Education Week, April 23, 2012.
Uro, G. and Barrio, A. 2013. English Language Learners in America’s Great City Schools: Demographics, Achievement, and Staffing. Washington DC: Council of the Great City Schools.

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