Locke Language Learners

This course will take your through a history of case law impacting English Language Learners and the way it has impacted course and program design in California.

The road from equality to equity

Match each case or law with the impact it had on schooling for English language learners.

One of the earliest cases utilized to begin a move toward equity was Brown v. Board of Education (1954).  This case brought to the forefront a guiding principle that education is a fundamental right and was widely utilized by parents seeking equal opportunities for English learners.  In 1974, Lau v. Nichols highlighted that equity and equality were not synonymous when considering education.  This case shed light on districts not providing adequate access to rigorous curriculum or to English Language Development for students who were learning English as a second language. The U.S. Supreme Court voted in favor of the plaintiff elaborating that simply providing access to the same curriculum and resources as students who spoke English as their primary language was not sufficient to achieve proficiency.  Hakuta (2011) stresses that as a result of this case, limited English proficient students "became a protected class, that for these students the same treatment did not constitute equal treatment"(p.163).  Following this case, there were two explicit areas of educational development to address the needs of English Language Learners: language acquisition, and standard curriculum.  The case of Castaneda v. Pickard (1981) elaborated on the benchmarks for quality EL programs even further.  The three pronged approach to measuring the quality of EL programs as a result of this case asked effective programs to (1)be based on sound educational theory, (2)have adequate resources for program implementation, and (3)provide continuous assessment to determine if students’ English language deficits are being addressed.  The first test of this three-pronged approach came during the case of United States v. Texas (1982) when the court attempted to apply the sound educational theory portion of the Castaneda test.  The plaintiff established that portions of the program they were addressing were indeed deficit, but could not demonstrate unsound educational theory as the root cause.  Parents addressing the deficits in district EL programs lost additional footing when the case of Gomez v. Illinois state board of education (1987) established that courts should assume school districts have expertise in their field.  In effect, any further trial would stand on the assumption that any EL program implemented by a school district was educationally sound.  This assumption was challenged in 1998 in Valeria G. v. Wilson where the plaintiff English language learners attempted to stop Proposition 227, discussed further, pushing forward an immersion model.  Since, at this point, there was no definitive theory pointing to a best method for attaining language the court remained inactive.  Court inaction signaled that a district’s EL program would only be out of compliance if absolutely no experts supported its’ theoretical base for establishing a program.

The most recent Supreme Court ruling falls under the era of No Child Left behind (NCLB) act of 2001.  NCLB pushed states to improve the way they addressed pedagogy for subgroups.  Sutton (2012) points out that NCLB was a signal that the President, as well as the Congress believed that change should come from an improvement in method rather than solely from increased funding (p.4).  This was the first time the assumption that districts operate on sound educational theory was questioned.  During this time, districts were asked to self-assess whether they were making data-driven decisions for the benefit of their English learners.  Current legislation mandates that all English Language Learners meet proficiency through the staffing of highly qualified teachers and consistent parent notification of progress.  A mandate, however, does not guarantee the quality of individual programs.  Outcomes vary widely depending on the literacy skills students bring with them in their home language.  As a result, the short time estimated for English Language learners to transition into mainstream classrooms is split between language acquisition, learning literacy skills, and the application of their learning to core subject areas.   A closer look at the English language development courses in California reveals that on University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) applications, they may only count as an elective.  Since courses designed to address English Language Development count as an elective, rather than a core course, English Language Learners often lack the prerequisite courses necessary to consider or pursue post-secondary education.

Under this era of standardized testing and data driven decision making the English Learner Acquisition Act (ELAA) pushes back on the precedent set by case law and endorses parental participation as well as the expansion of options for program delivery.  ELAA mandates that students learning English as a second language be held to the same standards of academic rigor as their peers who speak English only.  However, the previous thirty years of case law, as detailed earlier, has established the immense difficulty standing in the way of parent involvement.  This was confirmed in 2009 in the case of Horne v. Flores, a U.S. Supreme court case which set the “troubling precedent that states could use Rule 60(b)(5) to not make fiscal changes ordered by court ruling based on the loosely defined idea of changed circumstances” (p.35, Sutton, 2012).  When parents demanded a change in the way their local district ran English language development programs, and were supported by court decision, the school district was able to maintain current practices through a series of challenges to court decisions.  After multiple years of appeals within the court system, the district claimed that the changes originally requested were accomplished through a change in the local funding formula which allowed them to spend more funds on the exact same program they designed.  This case illuminated a way that local districts have the opportunity to misuse funding by funneling additional money into a failing program rather than considering redesign to improve results.  Funding for English language development programs is further discussed in the following section.

As mentioned earlier, Proposition 227 sets the legislative standard for schools serving ELLs in California.  Proposition 227 was passed in June of 1998.  The essence of the proposition aimed to considerably change the approach used to educate English learners.  Parrish (2006) summarizes that Proposition 227 requires that “ELs be taught “overwhelmingly in English” through sheltered/structured English immersion (SEI) programs during a transition period and then transferred to mainstream English-language classrooms” (p.I-1).  At the time Proposition 227 was passed there were two disparate opinions on the approach to ELL education.  Those supporting native language instruction “recommend the utilization of the students’ native language and mastery of that language prior to the introduction of an English curriculum” (Garcia 2000, p.2).  The opposition recommends “introduction to the English language curriculum […] at the onset of the student’s schooling experience with minimal use of the native language” (Garcia 2000, p.2).  Parrish’s (2006) summary of Proposition 227 implementation involves five years of research identifying the effects on actual school programming.  There are two findings which continuously emerge in the findings: (1) most districts continued with the program they already had in place, (2) multiple policy changes happening at the same time make it difficult to assess the impact of Proposition 227.  The anecdotal data gathered pointed, overwhelmingly, to confusion around implementation. This resulted in in a trend where “in general, districts complied with the legislation by fitting it to the programmatic plans that were already in place in their districts” (Garcia 2000, p.15). Also, as previously mentioned, other educational policy changes were going into effect. Garcia (2000) found that several administrators overseeing the implementation of Proposition 227 reported that, in actuality, “the state’s class size reduction program was reported […] as most influential in its effect on EL instructional services across the state” (p.41). In summary, Proposition 227 promotes English language instruction with opportunities for the appearance of limited native language as the model for English learners.  Its’ effectiveness or benefit is difficult to assess due to muddled implementation by school districts and other educational legislature making an impact in the same time frame.

  • Lau v. Nichols (1974)
    Defined the difference between equity and equality when it comes to education
  • Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
    Education is a fundamental right
  • Castaneda v. Pickard (1981)
    Created a 3 pronged approach to measure the effectiveness of English Language Development programs
  • Proposition 227
    requires that “ELs be taught “overwhelmingly in English” through sheltered/structured English immersion (SEI) programs during a transition period and then transferred to mainstream English-language classrooms
  • ELLA (English Learner Acquisition Act)
    mandates that students learning English as a second language be held to the same standards of academic rigor as their peers who speak English only

Check your knowledge of the English Learner experience at Locke.

Across 9th grade Academy, Blue, and Gold about 60% of our students are English Language Learners.  The majority of our students were either born in California, but spoke Spanish as their primary language at home OR arrived as a young child and completed an English Development program in Elementary or Middle School.  When students enroll in Locke, they answer a 5 question survey which helps us understand which language is their primary language. Students who report that a language other than English is their primary language are designated as English Learners (EL) if they haven't already received this designation from their previous school.  At the start of each school year, ELs take the CELDT exam which assesses 4 language domains in English (speaking, reading, writing, listening).  Locke students, and ELs across GD consistently show the lowest scores in the speaking domain whether they are a native born Californian or a recent arrival to the country.  While, ideally, all ELs acquire enough of their target language to be reclassified as Fully English Proficient (RFEP), this is not the case at Locke.  Additionally, it is not necessary to be reclassified to earn your high-school diploma.  In fact, students who hold the EL classification can continue attending high-school until they are 22 as long as they are continuously enrolled.  In other words, a student couldn't take a break for 2 years after their 18th birthday and finish their senior year when they are 20.  A student could, however, take up to an additional 4 years to finish high-school and apply to colleges.  At Locke, the cohort of students who recently arrived to the country is currently approximately 140 students and runs out of the Blue Academy.  The number of students who are designated EL is much higher. Blue Academy has a 60% EL rate, Gold Academy has a 54% EL rate, and 9th grade Academy has a 51% EL rate.  So, if you are teaching at Locke, you are more than likely to have English Learners in your classroom.

  • English learners must be reclassified as English proficient if they have been in the country for 5 or more years before they can earn a high-school diploma.
  • If you are designated an English learner you can stay in school until you are 22 years old.
  • Locke has an ELD pathway designed to graduate newcomer English language learners in four years having met the A-G requirements.
  • English learners are the cohort of students taught by Ms.Rodriguez and Ms.Covarrubias at Blue Academy.
  • When Locke students take the CELDT test, they struggle most in the writing section.

English as THE target language

Take a look at Patricia Ryan's TED talk.  Consider the connections you might make to Locke.