After reading a recent article that highlights the challenges of a particular "English-challenged" high school student in Oakland, CA to graduate, I am left with more questions than answers about what the 'best support' for ELL students actually looks like. The article titled "In Oakland, Struggling for Years to Learn English" focuses on an ELL student who struggled with passing an English proficiency test and subsequent CA state high school exit exam (which requires a strong knowledge of English to expect to pass) in order to graduate. The student, who entered the CA school system in pre-Kindergarden was labeled as a "long-term English learner" - the first time I've heard of this particular segment of ELL students. The article describes these students the following way - both in acquisition type and numbers:
This was incredible to me to say the least. How is it possible that so many kids can be long-term English learners for this amount of time? It seems that this type of situation goes beyond what can be solved in the classroom. State standards, ELL and ESL focused study, Federal standards, curricula that support these students and offers content that helps yet challenges - all of this exists, but there are still an overwhelming number of students who are struggling. Look, prior to reading this article if someone asked me what a "long-term English learner" was - I would have said someone like myself! I really don't mean that tongue-in-cheek. I mean, aren't we all continually 'long-term' learners of our own native language from cradle to grave? I would never have thought that so many students were still lacking language skills - especially academic language skills - after so long in school. It is a real eye opener. Where is the answer to 'how can these kids get better reinforcement of these language skills'? More in-class focused instruction? In the home? In the community? I argue all areas, but that's beyond the scope, and rightfully so, of your typical US educator. If we want to bring these kids, who deserve good educations, into a work force where it just happens that English is the language skill needed to make success more attainable, then greater outreach may need to be considered. It's a staggering challenge, but one that I do believe can be overcome - it just takes a lot of work and an 'all in' approach by all of the stakeholders in these kids education.