Harvard Professor Calls NCLB Requirements for English-Language Learners "Insane"
WASHINGTON -- Emma Violand-Sanchez heads the English as a Second Language program in Arlington County, Va., which serves nearly a quarter of the school system's students and is a source of pride among local educators.
The program emphasizes accountability and uses research-based curriculum and tests, just as President Bush desires, and that's why Violand-Sanchez is steaming mad about the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Provisions in the legislation, which took effect July 1, require expensive standardized tests not aligned with Arlington's ESL curriculum, and demand that students take the exams in English before Violand-Sanchez believes they are ready. Meanwhile, she said, the program is losing tens of thousands of dollars because the law changes the way federal money is distributed.
"We have worked very diligently for the past 20 years in improving our program," Violand-Sanchez said. "And after we have worked so hard to have a program institutionalized, now we have to rework it just to meet some federal requirements that are not going to improve the program at all. Not at all."
The changes she decries will soon affect the nearly 5 million students nationwide whose first language is not English, the fastest-growing student population in primary and secondary schools in the United States.
Federal education officials say the No Child Left Behind law will improve existing programs for what it calls English-language learners, or ELL, many of whom have been virtually ignored by public schools in the past.
"The intent is that children whose first language is not English are counted and that they achieve the same as we expect all children to achieve," said Maria Hernandez Ferrier, director of the office of English language acquisition at the U.S. Department of Education.
Educators across the country are divided about the impact of No Child Left Behind on this population of students. Some are unqualified supporters, such as Hector Montenegro, the new superintendent of the Ysleta Independent School District in El Paso. "It will only help these students," he said.
Others say that while the intentions may be good, many of the law's mandates will create serious complications for schools and children, and that Bush administration efforts to close the gap between English-proficient and ELL students will be counterproductive.
In particular, the critics say, the law ignores research on how children learn a second language by promoting the notion that most students can learn academic English in three years.
Across the country, states are interpreting the law differently, and most are waiting for their implementation plans to be approved by the Department of Education.
Many state officials said they had very little time to devise their plans and scrambled.
States are rushing to create new tests, but good tests are developed only over time, said Harvard University professor Catherine Snow, a language acquisition expert.
"This notion that by next September we are going to have tests of speaking, listening, reading and writing for English-language learners that can be used as a basis for tracking their progress toward full proficiency in English is completely insane," Snow said.
English-language teachers flunk federal education law
March 1, 2003
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES