Dealing with the language barrier in public schools

Posted: January 10, 2007 in Uncategorized

This morning, I came across the following article which covers the growing language barrier issue Ireland is facing with its influx of immigrants who do not speak English.

IRISH schools are getting lost in translation as teachers struggle to cope with increasing numbers of non-English-speaking pupils.

Schools are having to slow the pace of lessons and show greater caution when disciplining pupils because of language limitations and cultural barriers.

A conference of primary school principals heard last week that enrolments have become an ordeal in many areas as head teachers and non- English-speaking parents struggle to communicate with each other.

Tomas O’Slatara, the president of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN), said: “My first experience of this was two years ago, when two Polish children and their parents arrived at my school on August 31, the day before term started, with not a word of English between them.

“They brought along a friend and I spent half an hour getting him to explain and interpret so I could find out as much as I could about the children. It was a challenging situation.”  (more…)

This is the part of the equation that I have yet to see Liberals (and President Bush) address as it places the educational level of children who do speak English at risk in the name of “inclusion”.

Doing a quick scan of articles on the Internet on this same topic, I came across the following via a local Portland, OR newspaper.

Oregon’s effort to boost achievement among English-language learners has become a financial boon for some schools Ñ and a bust for others, educators say.

Because of a steady influx of children from non-English-speaking countries in recent years, financial support for language programs Ñ for which districts receive 50 percent more per student in state money Ñ has soared, becoming a huge part of some districts’ budgets and creating a perceived inequity between schools with many non-English speakers and those with few.

Each child dubbed an “English language learner” is worth about $7,500 per year in state support to a district, whereas other students garner about $5,000. For districts with a large population of English-as-a-second-language students, the language component can mean millions more dollars in state support. The dollars are intended to help districts hire language specialists so that ELL students can be taught Ñ at least initially Ñ in their own languages until they are proficient enough to join regular classrooms.


• Sixty-two percent of Woodburn School District’s students, or 2,639 kids, are not proficient in English, a condition that last year netted the district $1,372 more per student than districts without language issues. The total funding was $6 million over the top of the usual state support formula.

• Portland schools receive$12 million in support money for their 5,302 English language learners, according to Oregon Department of Education records. That’s approximately $2,264 per ELL student, or $256 more per student in the entire district.

• Only 2.6 percent of Sherwood School District’s students lack English proficiency, and so it receives only $190,372 for the year in added state support, about $61 per student throughout the district.

• Districts also receive money for English learners through the federal No Child Left Behind Act. But unlike the state allowance, it must be spent directly on ESL programs, and schools must account for every dime. State money may be spent any way a district sees fit, even on programs and projects unrelated to ESL. Some districts spend only one-half or one-third of their ESL allotment on ESL programs.

• Because the children in many high-proportion ESL schools also live in poverty as defined by federal guidelines, these schools often receive federal Title One funds as well. (source)

Also consider the following snippets: 

“Denver Public Schools to Create New Program for Students with Limited English Language Skills” (1999)

“Fifty-five percent of Title I schools report that they serve parents with limited English skills (U.S. Department of Education, 1997). Although differences in language between parents and school staff often exist in large urban areas with growing immigrant populations such as Imperial Beach, California, or Cleveland, Ohio, they also challenge schools in rural areas such as Alamo Navajo Community School, where the entire reservation community is Navajo and only 35 to 40 percent of the school’s professional staff are Navajo.

Most strategies for addressing language barriers include some form of bilingual services for communicating with families about school programs and children’s progress.” (PCI News, 7/05)

From a local Indiana newspaper:

“When implemented, the program will look like this: one full-time program director, hired to coordinate the entire program, supervise staff and also teach secondary language acquisition classes. This person, the committee highlighted, will be a certified teacher and ideally possess an ENL endorsement.

In addition, one full-time language assistant will be hired for each building, which means an increase from 3.5 ancillary positions to six.

Estimated cost of the program: $166,000. But according to Dr. Dennis VanDuyne, Twin Lakes assistant superintendent, that cost will likely come back to the school through about $135,000 in school funding formula dollars and $40,000 from a federal, Title I ENL grant.

Regardless of funds, the program is needed VanDuyne said.” (

So what is the bottom line in all of this? More money for the children of illegals (because let’s be real here, there are not too many American-born people who are not English-speaking) and less money for your kids.  I think what makes me frustrated about this whole thing is that my people (Black folks) continue to vote for folks who rubber stamp this policy while our kids continue to get substandard education on our dime.

  1. Saudia says:

    This sis such an outrage. Before I went to visit Italy I began learning the language. Granted I was not fluent but I was able to get from point a to point b with minimal confusion. So why is that if you want to go to a country to live that there shouldn’t be an expectation that you learn the language. Not change cultures, not forget who you are but learn the language of the land that you are in.

  2. MIB says:

    “So why is that if you want to go to a country to live that there shouldn’t be an expectation that you learn the language?”

    Who doesn’t share that expectation? The children in question are attending school to be taught English.

    I think this problem is larger than the bellyachers are willing to admit. Many of these students — admittedly illegal immigrants — are illiterate in their native language. For instance, I speak Spanish moderately well (after 6-7 years of formal schooling), but have difficulty communicating with speakers of certain Spanish dialects, esp. those of Central America. Hence, it takes that much more of an investment in time, effort and money to establish the proper reference points with these students in order that they learn English effectively.

    Of course, there are proponents of immersion, too. My complaint with immersion is that it’s not an effective method of educating students en masse to a single standard (although individuals left to their own devices often manage to dope out enough to get by). It’s my belief that a methodology not too far removed from immersion and rote memorization is used to teach most American students English, and the multitude of dialects make high achievement problematic, e.g.; most Americans have relatively meager language skills (

  3. Saudia says:

    NOT AT THE EXPENCE OF CITIZENS. So my child should suffer and the leveling of learning should slowed down to give you time to catch up. How about these parents take some responisiblity and place there children in night classes or at local community centers that are willing to teach them the language. It is all a bunch of bull and that is why my child is home schooled.

  4. andrea says:

    Well then how about dual language! Testing shows that students (English and Spanish speaking) in dual language programs not only outperform students in ESL but also do better than their English speaking counterparts enrolled in traditional programs. This way Spanish speaking students are not left in the dust and English speaking students get a competitive edge for tomorrow’s job market!!

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