ESL numbers up

Brent Finnegan -- September 19th, 2007

Last year, Harrisonburg City Schools’ total enrollment in ESL was around 39 percent. The School Board stood up to the federal government over the issue of NCLB tests to non-English speaking students, but had little support from the state, and eventually caved, administering the test to all students.

It’s no surprise to read in today’s DNR that the percentage of students enrolled in the ESL program has risen to 41 percent this year.

Two things the article does not mention are that roughly 46 percent of Harrisonburg’s ESL students are born in the United States, and — where unauthorized immigrant students are concerned — the Supreme Court case Pyler vs Doe struck down a state statute denying funding for education to children who were illegal immigrants. So, it would seem there’s not a whole lot the School Board or General Assembly can do about that particular subset of ESL students.

36 Responses to “ESL numbers up”

  1. Emmy says:

    I always find these articles interesting. I know that its “news” and people want to know, but I think all it does is make people angrier about immigration in this area. It wouldn’t matter if every one of these kids were legal, people still get hostile about it. Reading the comments on the DNR article proves that. It also proves how uneducated people are on the topic too. Gxeremio did a good job at attempting to give factual information to the commenter’s. I wish more people could go into the school and see how it all works. I’ve been very impressed with my son’s school.

  2. King Richard says:

    Emmy, are U impressed with your son’s school for spending OVER 6000 dollars per year for each ESL student?
    I wonder where that money comes from?

  3. chrisfb says:

    im hoping that this won’t turn into a generic taxes/immigration debate.

  4. Emmy says:

    Yes actually I am. Everyone wants non-English speakers to speak English…well how do you think they are going to learn? They are here, they aren’t going anywhere, so they need to be educated. Its an investment in the future of the area.

  5. King Richard says:

    An investment in the future—that’s a cop-out. Our country is being invaded, at our expence.
    They can learn by making one of the requirements of coming to this country is to learn english. Their parents don’t have to be fluent in english, but at least able to communicate.
    It’s a shame when teachers have to take time away from teaching our children so they can teach some students parent the ABC’s.

  6. Emmy says:

    So what do we do with the children who are born here to non-English speaking parents? Do we just not educate them?

    Time is not taken away from my child to teach these kids English. Neither of my sons teachers speak any Spanish so they can’t teach them English. When their classmates who don’t speak English are working with their aid, my sons have one on one time with their teacher. Turns out to be a pretty good deal for them. Now this is not as much the case this year for them, because they are in classes with fluent speakers, or native speakers.

    As for teachers who have to teach the parents as well…I hate to break it to you, but that happens with the native English speakers as well.

    Call it a cop-out if you want, I really don’t care. I went into this worried about how my kids would be impacted and I’ve been nothing but impressed so far. By the end of last year, the children in my sons class who spoke no English could communicate with me perfectly. I know how others feel about this, and I know most don’t agree with me. That’s fine; but this is something that I don’t mind my tax dollars going to.

  7. Emmy says:

    And totally unrelated my baby is five today!!!

    OK, sorry…back on topic.

  8. Gxeremio says:

    I put out a feeler about something on the DNR discussion and nobody really responded. So I’ll try here and I really truly want to hear from people who tend to be upset about the cost of educating ESL students.

    ESL students are one group that cost more than a “typical” student to educate. Other groups that cost more than the typical student include gifted kids, mentally retarded kids, learning disabled kids, emotionally disturbed kids, kids with extremely bad behavior, etc. They all get special classes and programs, there are teachers and specialists for each of these areas that cost the district money, and the materials they use are different than other students. Of course, some ESL kids also fall under those other categories, as do native English speakers. ESL students are not the only kids in local schools who receive special services.

    Is it “fair” that all these other groups of kids cost more to taxpayers than the average student?

  9. Thanh says:

    I often avoid these discussions on immigation, not because I don’t care, but because I’m not as educated on these issues as I feel that I should be. And so I often fear that I might say something wrong. But I have questions, and I do want to learn more so here I go.

    I read the DNR article and it brings up two issues to my mind. 1) Should students be taught to speak English or should students be nutured to remain in the ESL program and have alternative programs provided to them (throughout their education)? And 2) Do measuring tools like No Child Left Behind paint an accurate picture of how good schools are, especially schools who must address the issue of a large population of non-English speaking students? Then a 3rd issue comes to mind and that is – 3) How do we “control” immigration?

    For 3) I definately don’t know enough about this topic to speak on it.

    For question 2) based on what I know, I do not think that NCLB paints an accurate picture. Standard testing like NCLB and Standards of Learning (SOL) appear to be taking away from time that children could spend learning valuable life lessons – how to play, socialize with their peers, exercise (recess!), appreciate nature, etc. as well as expend some energy so that they can better focus in class. I can’t even sit at my desk at work for more than an hour before I need to take a break. Teachers have lost flexibility in what lessons they can teach or even how they teach their lessons. At least that’s what I hear and have read; I am not a teacher or in the education field. Anyway, my point is that NCLB makes a big mistake by punishing schools who cannot meet the standard – not all schools are the same, and not all schools have to teach so many non-English speaking students. I don’t really have an answer here on how we can maintain high standards of learning without a standardized test, given that there are some schools that really aren’t doing well, but I am open to hear what others might have to say…

    And for 1) I would like to know more from teachers or those working closely with non-English speaking students and people in these programs – Do these programs encourage non-English speaking individuals to learn English? Are students “forced” to learn English in schools, in a similar manner that students are “forced” to learn a foreign language like Spanish, French, or German to graduate? Is there a tool missing, such as enough Spanish-English speaking teachers to adequately teach these students? Personally, I think that the United States should have an official language or two, and I think that’s where much of our problems lie. Because we don’t have one official lanugage, all languages have equal rights so everything gets translated and I feel that it creates a very confusing situation for everyone. I believe that ESL students and non-English speaking adults should recieve assistance, but I guess what I’m hoping to hear is that part of the assistance is effectively helping them to learn English (or whatever language we might decide to make our official language).

    If I understand Emmy right, I say that I agree with her that schools and the ESL programs are an important tool to help non-English speakers speak English. What it comes down to is that I should pick up the phone and call one of these organizations helping immigrants and someone at the schools who can help me answer these questions.

    Just as a background note – Of my family, I am of the first generation born here in the United States. My parents both immigrated here from oversees and they worked very hard to be where they are today. They both speak English fluently, although my father still has somewhat of an accent that makes it hard for me to understand him sometimes, but I probably botch Vietnamese just as bad. Anyway, I imagine that they speak English fluently and have done well to support themselves and be contributing members of society because there were people around to help them. Actually, they were both sponsored separately (they met here in the US), by “American” families who reached out to them.

  10. Thanh says:

    Gxeremio, I think that the economic and social cost of helping these individuals (in this case students) learn English in school, while they are there, is less than the costs of allowing these students to fail out of school or move through a society that they can’t communicate with or to translate everything at the bank (like ATMs) into multiple languages, or to put these individuals in a compromising position when they can’t read and understand all of the legal matters related to the contract to purchase a home. But I’m totally pulling that out of thin air, I have no facts to back that up.

    I guess that I do think that it is fair.

  11. Gxeremio says:

    Hey Thanh, I can try to address your questions:

    1. ESL classes are supposed to help kids learn English faster and better than they would if they were just thrown in amongst English speakers via the “sink or swim” method. A lot of people know someone who learned a language through sink or swim. But research tells us that although people can learn conversational skills that way, it still takes 5-7 years to learn enough of a language to be academic with it, as school require. In addition, because we have such a large Spanish-speaking population kids who don’t speak English often just rely on translation help from friends, and socialize with other Spanish speakers, so the sink or swim method isn’t as effective as it might be in other situations. So what Harrisonburg schools try to do is give them content (academic) classes that are modified to help them learn English while they’re learning the subject of the class (math, social studies, science, etc.)

    2. NCLB-mandated tests (i.e. SOLs) do not paint an accurate picture of schools. It is a narrow measurement of success, and schools with large ESL populations are punished under the law, as I have written about before. Locally, for example, Page County passed AYP while many city schools did not. Now, I know people with kids (or who work in) both of those systems, and I would much rather my kid go to Harrisonburg schools than Page County schools, but if all I had to go on was their SOL test results, I’d think Page County schools were better. However, I do like that NCLB has forced schools to pay attention to groups of kids that often fell through the cracks before.

    3. I ain’t getting into this one today. Again. :)

  12. King Richard says:

    Emmy-one on one time with their teacher? Are your sons the only ones in their class? Who has to pay EXTRA for ESL TEACHERS?
    I understand that they have to be educated, & I want them to be, but they are still a burden & expence to our system.
    If some of you could really get to know some of these teachers, real well, like family where they could open up to you with no fear,some of you bleeding hearts would be surprized as to what they would tell you, not all teachers but a lot.
    Happy b-day to your baby, Emmy. That’s a fun age!

  13. Emmy says:

    OK, sorry, more like one to three or four. Last year it was one to three when they ESL students were with the aid. Their classes are more balanced this year. We as tax payers pay the extra, I already said that. I’m sure not all the teachers do like the situation.

  14. King Richard says:

    Your missing the point. Who has to pay for these EXTRA services, aids ? To bad that aid couldn’t give the teacher an extra hand with the reg. students. Maybe the teachers don’t need any extra help, we should give them more kids per class!

  15. Emmy says:

    The aids do often help in the class, especially if there are a large number of ESL students in that class. Every teacher has an assistant (at least in the grades my kids are in) whether they have ESL kids or not. WE as taxpayers pay for the extra aid…again, I already said that.

  16. Emmy says:

    Look, I don’t have the answers. It would be nice if we could all dictate where our tax money goes. I don’t have a problem paying for this, but there are some other things I’d love to stop funding. Right now, its what we’ve got, we have to educate these kids. Everyone concerned can work on it in the way they see fit. I just know that the reports keep making it look like its ruining our kids lives, and I’m just speaking from my experience. My kids are doing well. I hope I have something to do with that, but I love their school and I’m happy with the education they’re getting there.

  17. Tim says:

    King Richard, I have to pay EXTRA for a war I never supported, it kills innocent life but others have deemed it necessary. What ever extra money that comes out of your pocket in this case goes towards educating innocent children…

    Unfortunately in some cases, but fortunately in this one, the politicians we elect are responsible for making the decisions on where our tax dollars go. I wonder how much funding the war would have right now if we could each earmark our personal tax dollars each year. Maybe a lot at first but the pentagon would be having bake sales at this point.

    On the subject of ESL, where I grew up in Arlington (in the mid eighty’s) there was an elementary school named Key that was designed to teach both Spanish speakers English and English speakers Spanish. Math/science was taught in English and included outside help for Spanish speaking children and L.A./social studies were taught in Spanish with special help for English speaking kids.

    I don’t have kids so I don’t know exactly how ESL works here, but there, it seemed to have a great positive effect. The English speaking kids I knew who went to Key seemed to have a pretty good working knowledge of Spanish and didn’t seem to be falling behind the rest of us at all (granted I was in elementary school, but kids seem to be especially good at pointing out differences at that age and nobody seemed to notice any.)

    Looking back it seemed like the kids of different language backgrounds also got along exceptionally well, which I now guess it based on the fact that they were all on a level playing field. “You don’t speak the language that math is in and need special help, but I don’t speak the language that social studies is in and need special help too.” Nobody was singled out for their lack of a specific language and since the kids all spent their whole day together the integration appeared complete from the outside.

    The English speaking Key friends I had went straight into mid/high school Spanish and became fluent in most cases. Needles to say the Spanish speaking students, with much more to gain from learning English, learned quicker than anyone. Nobody got left behind, people just gained from their exposure to others.

    I’m sure there are cases that aren’t as rosy as I presented, but most everybody in the world, no matter what their profession, could expand their business or personal life if they knew a second language. The kids at Key were taught one before they new that their peers weren’t, and gained a leg up.

  18. Emmy says:

    I’m up at three a.m. with a sick child, so I’ll just keep running my mouth :)

    Tim, that school sounds really neat. That is something that could be done around here (if we had the money to figure it out I guess) except that I’m sure tons of people would even more upset than they already are. My son was in Kindergarten last year and he did learn some Spanish from his friends. I’d be thrilled if he learned any language before he got to high school. But, I can pretty much bet that the people around here would have a complete fit if the school said they were going to try the approach you mentioned. Many do not see the benefit of knowing ANY second language.

  19. Tim says:

    Emmy, I agree that people seem resistant to a second language around here and it bugs me. There really are economic reasons to learn a second language (I’m trying to speak the doubters language here). Nurses, deputies, accountants, real estate agents, lawyers, cell phone salesmen, professional baseball players, and bartenders (I wish I spoke Spanish), everyone could benefit financially from a second language.

    Plus, as an added bonus, people could build off that and have a greater understanding of their neighbor’s hopes and dreams and possible conclude that we all have more in common than different…. or we could travel more to places that aren’t identical “resorts.” That could be almost as cool as the extra money.

    Kids really are mailable and excepting, they pick up languages quickly and they generally have to be taught why they don’t like a person that has never been mean to them (or taken their Dad’s tax money). We could just let that be and let it grow.

    (Emmy, hope the little one is feeling better)

  20. Tim says:

    accepting, not excepting. I wish I could spell and use commas correctly…

  21. Kelly says:

    to jump back to the ESL aides in the classroom debate. Teachers aides have become a necessity of modern education and can be found in most classrooms across VA. I wouldn’t say that this is all in part to the ESL population, rather they were made necessary by the special education population. A teacher can expect to find a wide range of learning styles and ability levels in his or her one room classroom. Aides were brought about to “catch up” slower learners with the majority of the class, so the teacher isn’t tied up on any particular kid at the moment. The teacher is also expected to practice “differentation,” utilizing different learning styles and teaching techniques designed to reach a variety of students.
    Aides were around before No Child Left Behind, but with this federal mandate, you can expect them around for even longer. The next step I anticipate education taking is to not only have aides available for ESL students and Special Education, but to have aides for the gifted and talented population that are way ahead and need to be challenged. I think we are getting closer to the point were GT kids will also get IEPS (legally binding Individual Education Plans) like our SPED population.
    So my point here is, let’s not blame it all on the ESL kids! Schools cost a lot of dough period. I’ve been at schools with up to three kids in a wheel chair at a time, some of them with feeding tubes and changing tables. Now those kids had a LOT of aides and it’s expensive!
    I’m thankful for each child that comes in through the doors of my school. Each one is there to learn, and each one brings in something to teach to us. From the SPED student that teaches another child to feel comfortable around disabilities to the ESL student who can teach an English Speaker a new language and show them a different culture. It’s not the kids who have the problem… it’s the grownups who hover too much, forgetting that learning is painful experience no matter what. Hopefully these experience will make it a worthwhile education for ALL students.

  22. jesse says:

    oh my goodness, kr speak from the throne on mighty orator. welcome to the right!!!

  23. Tina says:

    “Who has to pay for these EXTRA services”

    The point’s already been made, but taxpayers do… for students with all kinds of special needs – ED, LD, ESL, etc. Isn’t it GREAT that kids who need extra help can get it in school? Wouldn’t it be even better if there were a smaller ratio of teacher to student in classrooms so that all kids could get even more individualized learning? I think education is one of the best ways to spend taxpayer money.

    I find it interesting that the same people who complain about immigrants not being able to speak English are often the same ones who aren’t willing to support programs that would help them learn. Go figure…

  24. Emmy says:

    I totally agree Tina.

  25. sam says:

    I wonder how much English is taught in the ESL classes. I know of a family from Venezuela with two daughters who speak english fluently. They are in ESL classes in the county. I asked what they do in their ESL classes and was told that they are a study hall. I wonder how many children in the ESL program speak English as well as the two that I know.

  26. Marty says:

    I graduated from an international high school (the International School Bangkok – Thailand) and the running “joke” within the very, highly culturally diverse student body was:

    Q: What do you call a person who can only speak one language?
    A: An American.

  27. eso says:

    It might surprise some, but I support the growth a second ( or more ) language can bring to an individual person. There is at least some scientific evidence that the language centers are more active and flexible at a early age, so I generally support early learning of another language. I am opposed to the US population being forced to learn it because we are being colonized.

    Ideally, I would like to see the businesses that employ non-English speakers taxed to offset the ESL burden they are placing on the surrounding communities. Realistically, you might be able to get turkey houses, but there wouldn’t be anyway to administer it to every cook, bus boy, landscaper, construction worker in the local businesses. It’d probably be legally questionable, also.

    I didn’t realize they had ESL students in regular classes? So they have little “time outs” for ESL translation or lessons and the regular students are get maybe some reinforcement or otherwise end up cooling their heels?

  28. King Richard says:

    Very well said eso. Some people have ‘tunnel vision’.
    example? look at the comment from Tim~ Sept. 20 at 3:31 am
    As I have said before, I agree that we should educate these children, for they cannot help the situation they are in, but they are still a burden to our society & its only going to get worse.
    Its not the children’s fault, our tax money is only putting fuel on the fire.
    Wish I had the answers. Some of you bleeding hearts think that we should just let our great country get invaded without standing up for ourselves & cater to whomever comes to our great land…..GOD help us all!

  29. King Richard says:

    Another thing: I hope this is on topic,
    being fat & unhealthy is accepted in the spanish culture, why do most (not all) of the American females that you see with spanish men seem to be overweight?
    Question: who’s doing the best they can do?
    Answer: they both are!

  30. Kelly says:

    King Richard, I think I’m tired of this conversation, I don’t know who the god you refer to is, but most I’ve read about wouldn’t approve of your racist joke. I personally like that my tax dollars go to educating children and I don’t feel that expanding any child’s potential is a burden. If you feel differently I’ll deal with that, we both get one vote. We won’t make any progress by discussing this further so I won’t, have a good one.

  31. David Troyer says:


    despite the fact that is grossly off-topic, since when is being fat and unhealthy not accepted in “american” culture?

  32. eso says:

    David Troyer: I want to distance myself from KR’s remarks. I’ve never heard that Middle / South American culture values large women the way that say traditional Jamaica does and just consider them rude.

    BUT, having said that, even as America is becoming obese, our ideal is still set by thin Hollywood bimbettes. We have an incredible rate of eating disorders as young women try to obtain that body type that is impossible for most women. (That is oversimplifying a bit because there are biological factors involved, but societal factors certainly play a part — most cultures don’t have the Anorexia / Bulimia rate that we do. )
    It was never cool to be fat when I was in school which was *cough* more than a few years ago.
    So I think that it’s fair to say that even while the “average” American is getting fatter, we are keeping a very thin female ideal.

  33. Baltimore girl says:

    Very well said eso!!!

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