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NCLB Outrages

Three Scholars Respond to La Raza Support of NCLB

NOTE: The NCLR (National Council of La Raza) has been
criticized for its support of NCLB (No Child Left
Behind). Below is a response by NCLR's Raul Gonzalez
to critics of NCLR's position on NCLB and English
language learners. Below this, is a response to Raul
Gonzales, written by Jim Crawford, Stephen Krashen,
and Kate Menken

from The NCLR (National Council of La Raza):

Hi all,
Thanks for your comments, although they are a bit
painful, I must admit. We appreciate that you have a
different perspective on this policy, but we think it
creates an opportunity to have an open discussion of
what weıve been doing and gain your insight into how
we can best serve the needs of ELLs. We do begin from
the proposition that NCLB will help us focus the
attention of the education system on these kids ­with
the end goal of getting the schools that serve them
the funding they need to meet the needs of ELLs, the
assessments to accurately measure how well these kids
are being served, and some tools to help Latino
parents and community members hold local schools
accountable. I donıt think anyone can deny that ELLs
have not received the support theyıve needed. At
issue is what strategy we can use to get these
children the resources and instruction they deserve.
Since our assessment is that NCLB in some form or
another is here to stay, our approach is to leverage
it to improve schooling for ELLs.

Prior to NCLB, as all of us noted, the educational
achievement gap between ELLs and their counterparts
remained stubbornly persistent, notwithstanding a wave
of policy and litigation successes in the 1970s and
1980s, and unprecedented federal investments in
education in the 1990s. Moreover, the policy trends
were going against us (i.e.,
successful anti-bilingual education ballot
propositions in CA and AZ); the federal judiciary was
becoming less sympathetic, etc. Even under Bill
Clinton, with ELL advocates in the Administration
(Norma Cantu at the Office for Civil Rights),
individual school districts (e.g., Denver) covered by
ELL-focused consent decrees were able to flaunt their
noncompliance with impunity. Here in Washington, DC,
NCLR was party to a compliance agreement with the DC
Public Schools and the Office for Civil Rights on ELL
instruction. That agreement was signed in the early
1990ıs. Weıre just now getting it implemented.
Clearly, the ³traditional² access agenda, focused on
consent decrees, civil rights enforcement, and more
money at the federal level, and strong policy at the
state level, had failed to make substantial progress
in closing the gap. As NCLR has noted previously, at
issue is not that the traditional civil rights/access
agendas were wrong ­ we continue to pursue an
accessagenda. We just feel itıs an incomplete
strategy. In that context, we view the full inclusion
of ELLs in any accountability system as one important
tool needed to augment and indeed reinforce strong
policies in other contexts.

Upon passage of NCLB, we immediately met with the
Department and asked (1) for them to deploy a
significant Technical Assistance strategy for states
and districts so that they are better prepared to
serve ELLs, and (2) for increased funding for ELLs.
They didnıt do any of those things; thus, DC lobbyists
for states and districts had an opening to
begin advocating for exempting ELLs from their
assessments and accountability systems. The
Department moved to give states these exemptions, but
NCLR intervened because we saw little to no evidence
that states were moving toward developing native
language assessments or other appropriate assessments,
nor were states showing that they were making serious
efforts to improve instruction for ELLs. Our
challenge to the Department was to not give any states
exemptions unless states demonstrated that they were
doing those things. We asked them instead to give
states tools to serve ELLs better ­not a blanket
waiver that would mean states didnıt have to do
anything. The result is that for the first time ever
the federal Department of Education is engaged in an
effort to help states develop assessments appropriate
for ELLs, including native language assessments, and
is sending a clear message that state Title I plans
will not be approved if they do not include
assessments which are valid and reliable for ELLs. I
thought that educators
would agree that thatıs a good thing, but perhaps Iıve
been in DC and out of the classroom for too long.

At the end of the day, all we can do is hope to be
judged on our record. It includes working in concert
with NABE, MALDEF, META, and others, in some cases
successfully and in other cases less so, to advocate
for the strongest possible policies to support ELLs,
including five successive Title VII/Title III
reauthorizations, several Higher Education Act
reauthorizations (including the 1998 renewal which
created a separate Title for HSIs), the recent renewal
of the School Lunch Act, which gives migrant students
portable eligibility (they wonıt have to recertify
when they move to new schools), and a House Head Start
bill which provides new slots for migrant children and
several provisions intended to provide ELL and Latino
children greater access to the program and better
ELL-specific services. It includes shaping
legislation that: successfully legalized nearly three
million people in the 1980s; increased legal
immigration by more than 500,000 per year beginning in
1990; and restored almost $20 billion in benefits to
millions of legal immigrants cut in the 1996 welfare
reform. It includes shaping a massive expansion of the
Earned Income Tax Credit that each year lifts two
million Latinos out of poverty. It includes creating
new affordable homeownership programs and products
that have helped increase Latino homeownership rates
to record highs. It includes shepherding the
promulgation of executive orders on Hispanic education
and language access requirements for all federal
agencies and recipients of federal funding.

I know personally that ELLs and poor minority kids
have been ignored in schools. Iım not trying to bash
the public schools, but am making that statement as
someone who attended Title I schools in NYC all of his
life, taught in Title I schools, and worked for a
Democratic Congressman whose focus was on education.
It sounds like folks on this list serve attended and
taught in similar types of schools and have derived
their passion for the issue from that experience.
NCLR believes that the future of Latino and ELL kids
is based on how well they are served by public
schools; and that the future of the public schools is
based on how well they serve ELLs and Latinos. So,
weıre very open to a constructive conversation about
how we should approach renewal of NCLB. Weıre really
not wedded to any specific policies or strategies
right now and would love to hear from
outside-the-beltway experts about how we can achieve
better instruction, curriculum development, and
assessment for ELLs. Too often, academics and
advocates have separate conversations about education
policy. Itıd be really good to bridge that gap going
in to reauthorization of NCLB.

Raul Gonzalez
Legislative Director

A Reply from
Jim Crawford
Stephen Krashen
Kate Menken

Dear Raul,

We are pleased to hear that the National Council of La
Raza remains "very open to a constructive conversation
about how we should approach renewal of No Child Left
Behind." Certainly it would be beneficial if advocates
for English language learners could resolve issues
that divide us, and speak with a unified voice on
Capitol Hill. In that spirit, we offer a few points
that we see as important to address.??

1. Attention. There's no disagreement that, as you put
it, NCLB serves to "focus the attention of the
education system on [ELLs]." The relevant question is
whether that attention has been beneficial or harmful.
Since the law took effect, we believe the impact has
been overwhelmingly in the latter category, according
to research studies and reports from the field. In
particular, the high stakes attached to assessments --
administered primarily in English -- have had perverse
effects that contradict everything we know about best
practices for ELLs. These include:

• pressuring schools to limit native-language
instruction and dismantle bilingual education
programs, while fostering subtractive rather than
additive approaches to bilingualism;

• barring students from educational and life
opportunities, by encouraging states to use a single
test -- which ELLs disproportionately fail -- to
determine high school graduation, grade promotion, and
program placement;

• creating a disincentive for schools to enroll ELL
students, who are viewed as "deficient" and a downward
drag on schoolwide test scores;

• narrowing the curriculum to language arts and math,
the two subjects that count for "adequate yearly
progress," at the expense of everything else in the
school day;

• emphasizing test preparation and other drills that
stress basic low-level skills and fail to stimulate
critical thinking;

• replacing second-language acquisition strategies
with a focus on English language arts instruction, and
promoting a heavily phonics-based approach to reading
that is neither supported by research nor tailored to
ELLs' needs;

• producing a two-tier education system that takes a
remedial approach toward ELLs, while offering
enrichment opportunities for more privileged children

• labeling and sanctioning schools for "failure" on
the basis of flawed assessments that are neither valid
nor reliable for ELLs (see below) and thus provide no
meaningful way to judge the quality of instruction;

• demoralizing dedicated educators and, all too often,
driving them from the profession, because NCLB's
accountability system is too blunt an instrument to
fairly evaluate their programs.

• To date we have seen none of the promised benefits
of NCLB. Instead, we see ELLs being "left behind" and
further marginalized.

2. The achievement gap. You argue that an NCLB-style
approach to accountability is needed because "the
educational achievement gap between ELLs and their
counterparts remained stubbornly persistent,
notwithstanding a wave of policy and litigation
successes in the 1970s and 1980s, and unprecedented
federal investments in education in the 1990s."

Is this statement based on research evidence showing,
as you imply, a lack of academic gains for ELLs over
that period? We are not aware of any such evidence,
nor of any valid baseline against which to gauge their
progress or lack thereof. Nevertheless, we do know of
numerous effective bilingual education programs today
that did not exist in the 1970s or 1980s. Not that a
majority ELLs are currently getting the education they
need and deserve. Far from it. Schools have plenty of
room for improvement. But your conclusion is troubling
to us because it tends to minimize the potential
damage that NCLB could do by sanctioning or even
dismantling effective programs.??In any case, the
"achievement gap" is a meaningless concept for judging
the progress of ELLs. By definition -- NCLB's
definition -- these are students who are unlikely to
reach "proficient levels of achievement on State
assessments" because of language barriers. They
typically score far below English-proficient students
on tests that do not measure growth and were not
designed or normed for ELLs. When students are tested
in a language they have yet to master, an achievement
gap is inevitable. It is neither fair nor reasonable
to expect otherwise. Then, as ELLs acquire English and
begin to catch up academically, they are reclassified
and leave the ELL subgroup. The effect is to lower
average ELL scores and ensure that the subgroup will
always be "low-performing." Bemoaning the achievement
gap in this context simply becomes a demagogic way to
bash the schools.

3. Assessment. It still puzzles us why your
organization would "applaud" the U.S. Department of
Education for mandating assessments for ELLs (and
counting them for AYP purposes) after just 12 months
in U.S. schools. Why not 10 months, 18 months, or 36
months? The decision was entirely arbitrary, with no
basis in research. Wouldn't it be better to base
important policies for ELLs on science rather than on
what "seems right" to federal bureaucrats?
?Study after study shows that one year is nowhere near
enough time for a child to acquire enough English to
have a meaningful score on English-language tests.
Nobody, including the Department of Education, denies
that the vast majority of assessments used for ELLs
today are neither valid nor reliable for measuring
their academic progress. So what purpose does it serve
to "hold schools accountable" on the basis of
inaccurate measures? How does it help kids to make
high-stakes decisions about them and about their
schools on the basis of misinformation? This strikes
us as irresponsible, to put it kindly. ??We support
efforts at state and federal levels to improve
assessments for ELLs. Yet we remain skeptical that the
crash program of "technical assistance" recently
launched by the Department of Education will produce
English-language tests, including those with
"accommodations," that are appropriate for high-stakes
purposes. For a group that is so diverse in language
proficiency -- ranging from students without a word of
English to those who are nearly ready for mainstream
classrooms -- developing valid and reliable
assessments in English is an enormous, perhaps
insuperable challenge. Rather than spend large amounts
of time and money in seeking this Holy Grail, it would
make more sense to devote resources to the kind of
assistance that schools actually need to improve
instruction. This means ensuring that children have
high-quality textbooks and materials, well staffed and
well stocked school libraries, well equipped
classrooms, and well trained teachers who are
qualified to serve ELLs.

4. Accountability. To us it seems defeatist to say:
“Since our assessment is that NCLB in some form or
another is here to stay, our approach is to leverage
it to improve schooling for ELLs.” This kind of
reasoning could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

believe that NCLB is only one approach to
accountability, and a deeply flawed one at that.
Reauthorization provides an opportunity to come up
with a more appropriate and effective accountability
system, one that truly benefits ELLs rather than
threatens to reverse the progress that has been made
over the past generation. We have some ideas along
those lines. But owing to the length of this message,
we'll hold them for another time.

We look forward to continuing this exchange.

— Raul Gonzalez, Jim Crawford, Stephen Krashen, and Kate Menken
A dialogue


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