From tonight’s meeting: English Learner achievement

At tonight’s meeting we heard a fascinating presentation of the results of the district’s research partnership with Stanford. Specifically, the partnership has looked at longitudinal data on English Learner achievement in several pathways — English Plus, Bilingual/biliteracy and Dual Immersion (full descriptions of each of these pathways are here).

I’ll post the presentation as soon as I have an electronic copy, and it’s pretty straightforward to understand. But basically, our concern as a district has been that we didn’t have solid data supporting the big investment we’ve made in dual-language immersion as a strategy to support the achievement of English Learners. (And in addition, until the last two years, we didn’t have accurate data on the English proficiency/background of all the students enrolled in our language pathways).

Dual-language immersion–offered in Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin and Korean– is wildly popular among English speakers and was designed to support both the English language instructional needs of target language native speakers as well as their content instruction needs.  These programs have exploded throughout the district and have been one of the district’s key strategies over the past decade for integrating schools (look at Bret Harte, Fairmount, Monroe, James Lick, DeAvila . . . the list goes on).

There is some data — not unique to our district — indicating that English Learners who are educated in dual-language classrooms (the ideal ratio is debated but generally held to be 2/3 English Learner/bilingual with 1/3 English native speakers) are slightly more likely to be reclassified English proficient by middle school than English learners educated in other environments.  Still, the sample sizes of the existing studies are small and the data they generated hasn’t been regarded as definitive (though to be fair it is considered “promising”).

But the Stanford longitudinal results are  much more robust and definitive than past studies, and I have to say that I was relieved when I saw that they basically support the earlier studies and our general approach up till now.

Essentially: students in English Plus programs (where they are immersed in content instruction in English much of the day and pulled out for specific English Language Development for a certain number of minutes per day) become English proficient faster and achieve at a higher level  in the earlier grades, but students in Bilingual and Dual-immersion pathways eventually catch up by middle school.  The takeaway is that it doesn’t really matter what pathway you’re in by the time you reach middle school.

The down side is that there is still a significant gap in achievement and overall English proficiency between students whose first language is Spanish and those whose first language is Chinese (Cantonese or Mandarin).  And an additional down side is that all students — whether their first language is English, Chinese or Spanish — are not achieving at an acceptable level in math by middle school.  So we have a lot of work to do.

Also from tonight’s board meeting:

  • We reauthorized charters for Gateway High School and Life Learning Academy;
  • We heard public comment from community members at the Claire Lilienthal K-8 Korean Immersion Program, the Filipino pathway at Bessie Carmichael K-8, and Hunter’s View residents advocating for the district to refurbish and reopen the Hunter’s Point Youth Park;
  • We celebrated 33 teachers who achieved the rigorous National Board Certification this year — bringing the number of district teachers who have achieved this professional honor and badge of achievement to 239! Congratulations!

2 responses to “From tonight’s meeting: English Learner achievement

  1. Jennifer Irvine

    This idea is not forgotten! The PEEF CAC recommended that SFUSD use PEEF funds to pay for a 7 period day for all SFUSD middle (and high) schools, but the Board and Richard Carranza do not seem to be willing to make this a priority.

    All SFUSD middle schools should be funded to provide a 7 period day to allow for language instruction or another elective. It is a crime that we have the teaching talent in SFUSD but not the will of the Board to make this happen. ELLs and language immerison kids have no access to electives and GE kids lose out on the opportunity to begin second language instruction before puberty. It is outrageous.

    Many private schools and our public charter, Gateway, offer language instruction for middle schoolers. No wonder so many parents turn away from SFUSD at 6th grade.

    When I tell people that SF public schools do not offer second language instruction until high school they are astonished. It is 2014! It is San Francisco! How can that be true?

    I would encourage parents to not let the idea be forgotten. Tell the Board and the District what you want to see.

  2. Did the study also take a look at those students that began in the program and didn’t make it to middle school? I can see that those that are looked at through the entire time would end up generally OK at the end, but wonder how those that dropped out on the way end up doing – better or worse off that if they’d started in an English only GenEd program, for example.

    I have expressed skepticism in years past when parents shared studies locally showing how well the kids do that complete the program through middle school, since that is only looking that the kids who successfully completed the program, which isn’t a full sample of all that were in the program – only the most successful! Is there any “norm” comparing what happens to those for whom the program didn’t work along the way?

    Glad that the district is looking at all this in any event.

    I just have to give a poke when it comes to language studies in SFUSD – the district still is doing a disservice to the vast majority of families that have no access to language immersion programs unless they win the lottery at the outset in kindergarten (or maybe a year later.)

    We didn’t get into a Spanish-immersion school over a decade ago, and then both of my kids had no access to language through SFUSD until 9th grade. For one child, this is going fine (she would have thrived in an immersion program) but for my older child, starting to learn a language at 14 was a real struggle. Most kids in SFUSD are in the same boat.

    It’s frustrating that for language access, it’s all or nothing in SFUSD starting in kindergarten. At one point there was discussion of adding a 7th period in middle school to accommodate needs for feeders and that one of these periods could be language (more equal access to instrumental music was another idea floated by SFUSD during some of those endless community meetnigs about 4-5 years ago on feeders). That idea seems to have been forgotten.