Saturday, September 23, 2006

NCLR's position on English Lang Learners and Critics' Responses

Here is the latest on NCLR's position on their position on NCLB with respect to English language learners and critics' response to it--all posted to the listserv of the Institute for Language and Education Policy (ELLADVOC@ASU.EDU.

You may direct questions either to Raul Gonzalez at NCLR or Melissa Lazarín, Senior Policy Analyst, NCLR Education Reform at Melissa Lazarin . My next two posts are Raul Gonzaelz' response to critics and a more elaborated response by Jim Crawford, Stephen Krashen, and Kate Menken.


Sep 13, 2006


Washington, DC – The National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S., today expressed strong support for the U.S. Department of Education's final regulations for states in addressing the needs of English language learners (ELLs). The final regulations will ensure that ELLs' academic achievements are taken into account, while providing some flexibility to states in how they are held accountable for helping ELLs.

"Getting the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB) right is critical for Latino students, nearly half of whom are ELLs," stated Janet Murguía, NCLR President and CEO. "The Department's regulations strike a balance which ensures that ELLs get the attention they deserve but have often not received, while at the same time giving states time to help ELLs learn English and improve in other important subjects."

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings today announced two final NCLB regulations related to ELLs. First, schools may continue to count ELL students who become English proficient as ELL students under the NCLB-mandated accountability system. Without this important change, many schools that are successful in helping ELLs become English proficient would be unable to demonstrate this progress and may be unfairly punished under the law.

Secretary Spellings also announced that ELLs who have attended public schools for less than one year may be exempt from taking English-language reading tests for one year. This ensures that schools have an opportunity to help ELLs improve their English-language and reading skills before they are held accountable for their progress in reading/language arts.

In addition to increasing flexibility, the Department has also established a partnership with states, NCLR, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) to provide states with technical assistance and other tools for developing better tests to measure ELL student achievement.

Murguía concluded, "We deeply appreciate the Department's efforts to provide states with the right tools to implement NCLB. This law and our schools will not be successful if NCLB does not work to address the needs of all students, including those who are learning English. We call on Congress to further support our schools by adequately funding this important law."

All Content © 2006 NCLR. All Rights Reserved
From: Discussion Group for Organizational Alternatives for ELL Research and Advocacy [mailto:ELLADVOC@ASU.EDU ] On Behalf Of Luis O. Reyes
Sent: Wednesday, September 13, 2006 11:10 PM


"Secretary Spellings also announced that ELLs who have attended public schools for less than one year may be exempt from taking English-language reading tests for one year. This ensures that schools have an opportunity to help ELLs improve their English-language and reading skills before they are held accountable for their progress in reading/language arts."

What do our assessment experts have to say about the "science-based" justification for only a one-year exemption from ELA testing for recently arrived ELLs? I'm assuming the reality that ELA testing of ELLs will continue this coming year and beyond, absent any legislative changes in the NCLB reauthorization process.

Under the rubric of doing no harm or mitigating harm, what do the experts say? The July GAO report on ELL assessment included an appendix with the names of such assessment experts who were involved in reviewing the states' ELL assessment plans and instruments. Among the experts cited were Jamal Abedi, Patricia Gandara and Richard Duran.

Any ideas about how to respond to this issue.? It seems like a clearly political decision with MALDEF and NCLR playing the role of enablers of the US DoE's accountability agenda. Local and national ELL advocates need expert advice about how to question these two final NCLB regulations related to ELLs.

Any takers?

Luis O. Reyes
New York City
On 9/14/06, Alex Poole wrote:
I'll take this one. Briefly, we all know that there is no evidence
that even a minority of ELLs can become proficient in academic English
in a year. Where they get this notion of one year is beyond my

But something more concrete to consider is this: In many parts of
rural America, we have ELLs in school districts that have zero
experience with such students, have a hard time developing programs,
and have an even harder time getting teachers. However, in one year,
they may go from having no ELLs to 50 or more.

In fact, in many of these districts, it takes a year even to find a
teacher, and many times they are given emergency certification
contingent upon completing the necessary coursework to receive ESL
certification. Frequently, the students have little formal schooling
in their first language, and thus are behind on content, and so they
must catch up on that while learning English. If the district has more
than one school, the ESL teacher will most likely have to drive long
distances, and the students will receive about an hour a day of pull-

I see this situation regularly in Kentucky. Holding these students and
their teachers "accountable" is terribly unfair, highly stressful for
all involved, and scientifically unjustifiable.

Thus, if we're talking about specific questions, I would ask whether
or not there are different standards for districts that have
established ELL programs and those which have recently developed them,
or are in the process of doing so.

Alex Poole (West Kentucky University)

Alex is right. Our research in Israel showed that Russian immigrant children took as long as 7 years to reach native norms in Hebrew and Math. So it is clear that to hold the children accountable is unreasonable. But the related question is how to encourage schools to offer assistance during this period.

Bernard Spolsky
Professor emeritus, Bar-Ilan University
Mail: 32 Habad Street, 97500 Jerusalem, Israel
Petrovic, John wrote:
It is unfortunate that the NCLR has abandoned its critical stance on most issues. NCLR has embraced various forms of vulgar multiculturalism (e.g., giving kudos to Spellings as below for continuing to do harm to children) just because lip-service is paid to Latino children and has operated within the horrific limits of identity politics (e.g., applauding the appointment of Alberto Gonzalez as Attorney General).

Perhaps this is a bit too shrill, but it some ways recent NCLR actions remind me of what Manning Marable once wrote about the Reagan administration (an administration identical to Bush's in its opposition to women's rights, civil rights, gay and lesbian rights, ad nauseum). Marable argued that that administration "pursue[d] what objectively amount[ed] to an unprecedented racist assault against minorities while simultaneously appointing blacks to prestigious positions and disclaiming any racist intentions. Thomas Sowell, Ralph D. Abernathy, Tony Brown, Walter Williams, Nathan Wright ... therefore became essential to the destruction of the black community."


I share your disappointment with the rightward drift of NCLR and its efforts to ingratiate itself with the Bush administration. It was amazing to see Karl Rove giving a keynote at the recent NCLR conference.

Unfortunately, with NCLR and its allies -- including the Education Trust and now apparently MALDEF -- we're dealing with something more complicated. They espouse a "civil rights" justification for No Child Left Behind that is effective with liberal Democrats like George Miller and Ted Kennedy. It's an ideological approach that essentially says that if ELLs (and other "left behind" subgroups) are doing poorly in school, it must be because the schools are neglecting them. Forget about poverty and its effects, which don't get much attention in today's political climate. It's easier to join with rightwingers to pick on the schools and race-bait critics.

So NCLR et al. have fixated on the principle of "inclusion" of ELLs in accountability systems, however bad those systems may be. They're willing to acknowledge the almost complete lack of valid & reliable assessments for ELLs: Nevertheless, these groups continue to push for high-stakes use of those assessments. Who cares if public schools are treated unfairly -- after all, they're the enemy. (It may be no coincidence that NCLR is heavily into charter schools.)

This ideology is a holdover from the 1970s, when it was clear that most school districts were resisting an obligation to do anything different for ELLs. In fact, the so-called Citizens Committee for Civil Rights, which works closely with NCLR, is made up of litigators who worked on some of those lawsuits. A great deal has changed, following Lau v. Nichols, the Aspira consent decree, and the development of the field of bilingual education. But the ideologues just don't recognize these changes. It's easier to fall back on faux militancy and wrap yourself in the flag of civil rights. A high staffer at NCLR once told me that "nothing good" had ever happened for ELLs before No Child Left Behind.

This is the mentality we're dealing with.

Jim Crawford

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