What's Our Objective for English Learners? Preparation for College, Career, and Citizenship Via Language Objectives and Research-Based Instruction

Article excerpt

This is an extremely challenging, yet exciting time in California. Budget cuts have severely impacted education and our ability to effectively serve the needs of all students. New waves of policy changes at national, state, and local levels have emerged, creating great challenges to a system strained by depleting resources. And in California, we are beginning to see a different vision for public education. The Common Core State Standards Initiative provides an opportunity to promote a well-rounded, rigorous, and relevant education to prepare all students for college, career, and citizenship in the 21st century.

The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics adopted by California offer fewer, clearer standards than our past standards. They intentionally focus on the use of informational text through cross-disciplinary teaching in social studies, science and technical subjects. The passage of AB 250 brings back the California Curriculum Commission (now known as the Instructional Quality Commission) to update the Mathematics and English-Language Arts Frameworks to help districts implement the Common Core State Standards and prepare for the Smarter Balanced assessment system coming in 2014-15 for all schools. AB 250 (Brownley) also ushered in the goal of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills initiative to:

Develop a curriculum, instruction, and assessment system to implement the common core state standards that intentionally does both of the following:

(A) Focuses on integrating 21st century skills, including critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity, and innovation, as a competency-based approach to learning in all core academic content areas, including English language arts, mathematics, history-social science, science, health education, visual and performing arts, and world languages.

(B) Promotes higher order thinking skills and interdisciplinary approaches that integrate the use of supportive technologies, inquiry, and problem-based learning to provide contexts for pupils to apply learning in relevant, real-world scenarios and that prepare pupils for college, career, and citizenship in the 21st century.

As these various initiatives move forward, it is important to be vigilant about the inclusivity of all students and the need to support all learners. We live in a nation of immigrants and our English learner population is ever growing. Their success is paramount to the success of all students and the future of our nation and our world.

The Moral and Civic Imperative For Supporting English Learners

Sadly, findings from the evaluation study of Proposition 227 (Parrish et al. 2006) and 2005 NAEP data report that approximately half of all English learners at the elementary school level and nearly three-quarters of the English learners in middle school scored below the basic level in reading and mathematics (Fry 2007). California Standards Test scores in English-language arts from 2003 to 2009 report that even though English learners demonstrated modest improvement in grades 3,5,8 and 1 0 , the gaps between English learners and native English-speaking peers grew in all four grade levels.

And then there's the "narrowing of the curriculum" . Numerous studies , reports , qualitative and quantitative data reveal that the last ten years of educational policy has resulted in a severe neglect of social studies as well as science, health, and art education. Perhaps the most crucial research comes from the study conducted by Joseph Kahne at Mills College and Ellen Middaugh at UC Berkeley. It finds that "High school students attending higher SES schools, those who are college-bound, and white students get more of these (civic learning) opportunities than lowincome students, those not heading to college, and students of color." (Kahne, J., Middaugh, E. 2008)

Bottom line is this... if English learners cannot access subject area content or develop academic English language proficiency because their English language arts skills are weak, they cannot adequately understand social studies content (or any content), internalize it, make sense of it, or apply it in the real world. …