Getting Political About Teacher Preparation for Multilingual Learners

Today’s blogger is Kathryn Strom, California State University, whose essay (co-authored with Tamara Lucas, Meghan Bratkovich, and Jennifer Wnuk) on professional development opportunities on ELL for inservice teachers appears in The Educational Forum.

Recently, I attended a superintendent “Listening Forum” with executive leaders serving districts in the East Bay of San Francisco.

One superintendent, who headed a district with a large migrant worker population, described observing a downward trend in attendance across her district among specific groups. Latino students and, in smaller numbers, other groups of immigrant populations, were not coming to school.

When she and her team spoke to principals, teachers, and parents to find out what was happening, they were told that undocumented families were avoiding their public schools due to fears of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests, which had risen in 2017. In response to this story, several other superintendents shared that they were grappling with racially charged speech and acts toward the same groups of students. While these types of incidents had occurred in the past in their districts, the superintendents collectively agreed that since the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, they had skyrocketed.

These stories reflect a national trend. In the month after the 2016 election, the Southern Poverty Law Center (2016) conducted a survey of more than 10,000 teachers. More than 90% reported a negative impact on their school climate, and 80% said their historically underserved students exhibited heightened anxiety.

While we might like to pretend that education is solely about the enterprise of learning and is unaffected by what is happening outside the classroom, stories like these demonstrate that it is not. Our educational systems, curricula, and classroom pedagogies are not somehow separate from the rest of the world, nor are they neutral. They are shaped by multiple external factors, including historical conditions, policy makers with specific political agendas, and current societal trends. Schooling and teaching are profoundly political, and perhaps nowhere is that more visible than in the education of multilingual learners, also known as “emergent bilinguals” or “English language learners” (ELLs).

As Lucas and Villegas (2011) detailed in their Linguistically Responsive Teaching Framework, the teaching of multilingual learners has important historical and sociopolitical dimensions that teachers need to understand to effectively educate these students. For instance, the United States has long valued English over other languages. This has resulted in multilingual students having limited access to dual-language or bilingual programs, and has led several states to mandate that multilingual learners would be taught exclusively in English—policies that contradict a large body of research on quality second-language instruction. Furthermore, teachers of multilingual learners need to understand their own possible biases and how these may translate into low expectations or deficit views of their linguistically diverse students—which, in turn, may influence their instructional decisions and interactions with these students.

Many initial teacher preparation programs in the United States now offer at least some coursework focused on instruction for multilingual learners. However, as shown in the recent review of literature regarding preservice preparation for second-language learner instruction by Villegas, SaizdeLaMora, Martin, and Mills (2018), most programs do not offer sufficient experiences to develop “sociopolitical consciousness,” or understanding of how social and political issues affect the education of multilingual learners. Similarly, in Lucas, Strom, Bratkovich, and Wnuk’s (2018) recent review of professional development opportunities for teachers of multilingual learners, the researchers found little evidence that inservice teachers engaged in learning aimed at increasing their understanding of how the current political context, societal divisions, and their own deep-set beliefs about language and diversity may influence the learning of their multilingual students.

As a country, we are more polarized than perhaps at any other time in recent memory. Already a politically fraught area in education, the instruction of multilingual learners is being further affected by the mainstreaming of xenophobia as part of an ethno-nationalist presidential administration. Across the professional continuum, teacher candidates, beginning teachers, and veteran teachers need learning opportunities not just about quality instructional practices; they also need sustained opportunities that explicitly address how the political climate and potentially their own internalized understandings of language and second-language learners impact their multilingual students.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Kathryn Strom’s essay with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through May 31, 2018.

 

References

Lucas, T., Strom, K., Bratkovich, M., & Wnuk, J. (2018). Inservice preparation for mainstream teachers of English language learners: A review of empirical literature. The Educational Forum, 82(2), 156–173.

Lucas, T., & Villegas, A. M. (2011). A framework for preparing linguistically responsive teachers. In T. Lucas (Ed.), Teacher preparation for linguistically diverse classrooms: A resource for teacher educators (pp. 55–72). New York, NY: Routledge.

Southern Poverty Law Center. (2016, November 28). The Trump effect: The impact of the 2016 presidential election on our nation’s schools. Retrieved from https://www.splcenter.org/20161128/trump-effect-impact-2016-presidential-election-our-nations-schools

Villegas, A. M., SaizdeLaMora, K., Martin, A. D., & Mills, T. (2018). Preparing future mainstream teachers to teach English language learners: A review of the empirical literature. The Educational Forum, 82(2), 138–155.

Tell Congress to Fund Education Leadership!

This spring, Congress will be making critical decisions about President Trump’s budget request to cut education spending by 13%.

The School Leader Recruitment and Support Program (SLRSP), the only federal program that specifically focuses on strengthening leadership in our high-need schools, is at risk.

With the emphasis on increasing student achievement, turning around failing schools, and producing college and career-ready graduates, successful school leaders are especially important.

Education leadership and leadership development, including teacher leaders and building/district leaders, have been part of Kappa Delta Pi for more than 105 years. While teacher leadership plays a critical role in improving student learning outcomes and enhancing the professional growth of teachers, schools also must have quality principal leadership.

According to the National Association of Secondary School Principals, principal leadership is second only to classroom instruction among all school-related factors that contribute to what students learn at school. Even more significant is the finding that quality principal leadership is particularly important to high-poverty schools.

The issue of quality school leadership connects with KDP’s mission in other critical ways too.

KDP has a rich legacy of working to support and retain thousands of talented new teachers who enter classrooms every year, especially those teaching in high-poverty urban and rural schools. Any teacher retention effort must include effective school leaders, because leadership is among the most important factors in a teacher’s decision to stay in a school or in the profession.

Studies have shown that improvements in school leadership were strongly related to reductions in teacher turnover. While teacher attrition has always had negative consequences on student academic achievement, school finances, and school culture, it is particularly problematic given the increasing teacher shortages across the country.

As part of an organization committed to equity and quality education for ALL students, we must advocate for adequate education funding, including the School Leadership Recruitment and Support Program for high-needs schools.

To that end, KDP, together with 29 other organizations, signed onto a joint letter.

As professionals, we can use our voices to educate members of Congress about the importance of education funding overall as well as for critical programs such as SLRSP. You, too, can sign the letter by following the link above.

We must remember: Teachers change the future!

Aside

The Chicago teachers’ strike matters for more than education

The current strike of Chicago’s public school teachers is not just a dispute over better wages and working conditions, but a fight for the survival of public education in the U.S. As access to quality public schools is essential for the working-class, it is apposite that the basic organization of the working-class – the union, is being used in this fight to defend public education.  Thus the Chicago Teachers Union’s (CTU) battle with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) should not just be embraced by advocates of public education but by the entire labor movement as well. Chicago’s teachers, by dusting off the long under utilized lessons of U.S. labor history, are teaching us a valuable lesson on how unions have and can be used to bring about progressive reform and systematic change.

Leave it to teachers to actually learn from the past.  Since the 1950s the labor movement has overwhelmingly relied on two labor/management conflict strategies. One being business unionism where contract disputes are settled at the bargaining table by bureaucrats and lawyers. The other is simply voting for Democratic candidates hoping they will represent the interests of labor. Reliance on these two strategies has resulted not only in decades of retreat but also the near decimation of the labor movement as a whole. Instead of following these dead ends, the CTU has reached back to the numerous examples of social movement unionism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

In 2010, the insurgent Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) took over the leadership of the CTU, transforming the CTU from an appendage of the Daley Machine and into a grass roots union tied to parent and community organizations. A year later when Barack Obama’s right hand man, Rahm Emanuel, was elected mayor of Chicago the CTU knew it had a fight coming its way. Emanuel has been determined to implement the education policies of Obama’s Secretary of Education and former CEO of CPS, Arne Duncan. Duncan’s Race to the Top education policy through the expansion of charter schools and the busting of teacher unions basically boils down to the goal of privatizing public education.

No one becomes a teacher to get rich. As teachers, the members of the CTU have placed the welfare and education of Chicago’s 350,000 public school students above all other demands. Their document The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve makes this abundantly clear.  In response the Illinois state legislature passed legislation making it illegal for the CTU to bargain over any issues other than those related to wages and compensation. This meant that issues such as class size, curriculum, and guaranteeing that all Chicago public schools have the libraries, nurses, social workers, textbooks, air conditioning, and playgrounds needed could no longer be bargained or struck over. With the Emanuel administration not negotiating in good faith and refusing to address the basic social and material needs of Chicago’s students the CTU prepared for a strike. Again the CTU took a lesson from the past. They prepared for a strike not to use as a threat during bargaining, but a strike to win.

The CTU strike has transformed the debate on education reform. It has also shown the labor movement a true example of how to fight back against austerity. Through striking the CTU has dealt a blow not only to the Emanuel administration, but also to the bipartisan assault on public education. This past weekend CPS conceded to the CTU a number of wage and compensation demands, while at the same timing essentially rewriting every article of the basic CTU/CPS contract that has been the model for the past fifty years. In sticking to their democratic rank-and-file principles, and not trusting CPS, the CTU’s House of Delegates (HOD) voted to continue striking in order to give its membership time to go over and discuss the contract proposal. This time is also needed for the CTU membership and its allies to figure how to continue the fight for the non-strikable demands that sparked the conflict with CPS. In response to the HOD vote, Emanuel is seeking an injunction against the CTU to end the strike, stating the strike is a “clear and present danger to public health and safety.”  Coming from someone who refuses to provide nurses, social workers, or air conditioning to a large number of schools this injunction attempt is pure hypocrisy. Until a contract is signed all advocates of public education and the entire labor movement needs to put its support behind the CTU.

Tom Alter is working on his Ph.D. in labor history at University of Illinois at Chicago, and a member of the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign.

Reactions to the GOP Educational Platform

As I listened to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s speech at the Republican National Convention I heard him say, “We believe in teachers” and then heard how he is against any type of teacher union.  I thought; he should have said, we believe in teachers as long as they continue to be accountable to political beliefs about education.  The GOP educational platform believes education should provide a chance for every child.  The platform states the educational reform movement calls for, “higher expectations for all students and rejects the crippling bigotry of low expectations.  It recognizes the wisdom of State and local control of our schools, and it wisely sees consumer rights in education – choice – as the most important driving force for renewing our schools.”  In other words: Choice for parents such as charter schools or vouchers.  If parents do not see a school as providing an opportunity for their child to “reach their potential,” that parent should have the choice as a “consumer right” to leave that public school and place their child in another school of their “choice.”  Of course those same parents do not want their taxes to increase or teachers to receive more pay or benefits. They just want to move their child to a school that has a record of performance. Where does this leave public schools? Where does this leave our students? I learned the goal of public education in this nation was to educate ALL students who walked through the doors. This belief means that at times a school may not achieve lofty test scores, but it does NOT signify teachers and students are not working hard to meet or exceed their potential for leaning.

I agree throwing money at schools without a plan for improved teaching and learning does not “equal better performance,“ but neither does continuing the ideal that teachers should work longer, produce more, silence their voice and quit their unions, or just go along with whatever the current political administration puts forth. But a platform that sees “consumer rights in education – choice – as the most important driving force for renewing our schools” may be worse than doing nothing. To me, that is arguing for the demise of the public educational system, and that is not an answer. Why effectively dismantle the very system that helped produce many of these potential leaders?

I encourage every educator to read and speak about the GOP and Democratic education platforms and not be silent as we head into the election in November. If our profession remains silent, our teachers and students may have another initiative like NCLB thrust upon us. I encourage all to join our efforts, here or on the KDP main page. Get involved in the advocacy committee’s work and participate in the conversations that are going on through blogs on other sites. Together we can guide, lead, and “acknowledge the need for change when the status quo is not working. New systems of learning are needed” but with our guidance and expertise.

By: Marcia Bolton