Students in the United States educational system possess a wide background of beliefs and experiences. Such variation requires all educators to have the skills to adapt to a diverse population. One must remember that immigration to the U.S. has always been an integral part of the country's identity, and immigration will continue to play a vital role in the cultural, economic, and societal landscape of America. Many of the people who immigrate to the U.S. have a very limited, or even non-existent, understanding of the English language. Thus, American educators have taken on the important task of not only teaching immigrant students the English language, but also providing them with the quality of education that every native-born American receives. Educational equality is always an essential component, especially when a language barrier is present. ESL teachers have the difficult task of educating students who speak English as a second language, while at the same time keeping these students motivated throughout the educational process.
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Throughout the history of the nation, our society has never been completely satisfied with the state of the public educational system, and there seems to always be room for improvement. In the present, the competency level of teachers entering the profession is a great concern. Despite this apprehension, the purpose of this study is not to scrutinize teachers and their competency levels. Teachers play one of most vital roles in our communities, and one could even argue that teachers form the backbone of our society. With minimal pay and high levels of stress, the challenges ordinary teachers face even before entering the classroom can be daunting. In addition, the importance placed upon a teacher's role in their students' lives by our society cannot be understated. These factors, couple with the difficulty posed by a language barrier, makes it easy not only to understand why ESL teachers are so important to the greater good of the educational system, but also how challenging their work really is.
Background of the Problem
Studies show a trend that suggest ESL education is not going anywhere soon. According to the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition and Language Instruction Educational Programs (2007) ESL education is on the rise; the percentage of ESL students in America's schools has risen by 57.17% since 1995- 1996. ESL students are 10.50% of the total U.S. school population (Hoffman & Sable, 2006), and the highest growth rate is in grades 7-12 (Kindler, 2002). With the number of ESL students steadily growing each year, educators must look in depth at the need to properly teach present and future ESL students.
In order to understand the importance of ESL teachers and students in our community, we must first look at why their case is so special. According to www.languagemonitor.com most languages, such as Spanish, Japanese, and Russian, contain around 250,000 words. The Chinese language has the second highest number of words with approximately 500,000. The English language leads all languages with over one million words. As one might correctly assume, learning one million new words is a difficult task. In fact every ninety eight minutes the English language gains a new word. The sheer number of words in the English language forms part of the reason learning and teaching English is so challenging. It is important to note that even if a student can speak the language, it does not necessarily mean that the student is competent using the language in educational settings. ESL students must not only need to be able to speak the language in a conversation, but also be able to go into a classroom and read, write, and analyze the language correctly. The possibility of this discrepancy creates an additional challenge for the ESL teacher.
1. Why is ESL education so important?
2. Why are parents in the Kingsville community denying their children entry in the Bilingual/ESL programs?
Purpose of the study
The number of words in the English language, coupled with the discrepancy between speaking the language and applying it to an educational setting, cause the mastering of the English language to be a very difficult task to both learn and teach. Often times, particularly in educational settings, when a task is viewed as too difficult or impossible, it is easier to simply walk away from the challenge. Teachers must make students realize and understand that although learning the English language is difficult, it is by no means impossible. Before any instruction beings, teachers must recognize that their students' "interest is more likely to engage if the task is appraised as challenging but not too difficult, within reach but not a cakewalk," and also that the teacher's own "instruction offsets the negative influence of a student's low self-efficacy" (Hidi et al., 2002; Hidi & Ainley, 2008; Silvia, 2003, 2005; Willingham, 2009). Most students can't see the long term benefits if they do achieve the goal of learning the English language, so educators must help students realize the importance of what lies ahead. Research by Thomas and Collier (2003) suggest students do better in more challenging environments; "English learners have an opportunity to make faster than average progress on grade level instruction that is not watered down" (p. 61). The importance for teachers to set a success orientated environment is essential to the development of the student.
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Importance of the study
This study takes on a task where research has been neglected and the need for education is great. As a teacher in the Kingsville ISD system I want to look locally at ways to better our community and school system. This study focused on the importance of having enough well educated teachers to fill the needs of a growing number of ESL students. All students deserve the right to an equal education and a lack of teachers and resources should never be an excuse. Bilingual and ESL educational programs are offered all over Texas in universities and certification programs. Hopefully the data collected will help make aware the lack of ESL teachers that are present in our community schools.
Based on the research from the Texas Education Agency 2008 - 2009 Campus Performance Report, our region needs more constancy in the amount of students in the Bilingual/ESL programs and the amount of Bilingual/ESL programs teachers. The low numbers show a need for more support within our community. In fact we are well below the state average for percentage of ESL teachers. While there are many ways to get the numbers up, one of the simplest solutions deals with improving the negative stereotypes associated with the term Bilingual/ESL education. During my interview with the ESL teacher at Gillett Intermediate School, the teacher acknowledged that many parents in our community deny their children entrance into the Bilingual/ESL program. She goes on to state that the main reason for the denials is based on the negative stereotypes associated with the term Bilingual/ESL education. Unfortunately parents just don't want their children to be viewed as inferior to the other students. Yet are those same parents hurting their children in the long run. Even if a student does not score well on the TELPAS, which is a test used to asses the students progress in learning the English language, the parent can still deny the student to participate in the Bilingual/ESL program. She estimated that approximately 40 students at Gillett Intermediate are monitored due to low TELPAS scores.
In a research paper we can assume very little information that is not backed up with factual data. Through the data collected in this research any assumptions made will have concrete data behind it. During the course of this research I have learned that all my previous assumptions made were completely false. One might think that a high number of Hispanic students in a school district would correlate with a high number of Bilingual/ESL students, this is completely false. In fact when it concerns the percentage of ESL students in a school district, there does not seem to be any pattern based on low LEP scores, economically disadvantaged students, or even at risk students.
Delimitations of the study
The study focuses on statistical information, previous studies, and research on the importance of a quality ESL education. It stressed the information gathered from the Texas Education Agency and the lack of qualified ESL teachers in the surrounding areas.
Limitations of study
Although this study makes great strides in an area of research that has been neglected, the researcher faced several limitations during the study. First and foremost, a lack of time and money was a major limitation. The researcher was able to collect data from school districts but was not able to witness live interaction between ESL students and teachers. The only live interaction witnessed was at the school district that employees the researcher. It is possible there is a way to witness interactions from the other districts used in the study; however the researcher could not abandon his responsibilities at his current school.
Definition of terms
Bilingual Education - The New World Encyclopedia defines Bilingual Education as teaching all subjects in school through two different languages and the practice of teaching children in their native language.
ESL -According to Kenneth Beare (2009), "ESL is English taught to foreign language speakers living in an English speaking country like The United States, Canada, England, Australia, etc.
TELPAS - The Texas Education Agency defines the TELPAS as a test designed to assess the progress that limited English proficient (LEP) students make in learning the English language.
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REVIEW OF THE LITERATRE
History of ESL
The origins of ESL education can be traced back to the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; however ESL education really began to pick up steam in California
during the late 1960's. Ronald Regan took a bold leap of faith and initiated a bill that allowed non-English instruction in California. The 1968 Bilingual Act, also known as title VII "provided supplemental funding for school districts interested in interested in establishing programs to meet the special educational needs of large numbers of children of limited English speaking ability in the United States" (Legal Foundations, 2007, p1). Twenty eight years ago, Jim Cummins who is one of the pioneers in ESL research, noted that "Minority - language students, especially Hispanic and Native groups, have been characterized by high drop-out rates and poor academic achievement" (1981). Educators in our area would argue that today the problem has gotten worse.
Why is ESL Education so Important?
According to research the Latino community is struggling to keep kids in school. This fact alone should be a major concern in a community that is majority Latino. Education leads to achievement opportunities, and keeping kids in school is a major issue; "Spanish-speaking students are less likely to complete high school than English speakers and are less likely to go to university (NCES, 2004; Zehr, 2003). Lee Gunderson (2008) believes this "is a serious and pervasive problem in the United States and Canada. ESL students are failing to learn to read and write English, and they drop out of school in significant numbers. It is scandalous that conditions have not improved". There is always a way to correct this problem, and in my opinion it begins with hiring more quality teachers, and improving our Bilingual/ESL programs to get more students and teachers involved. It is the case in many of our local school districts that only a small percentage of Bilingual/ESL teachers are instructing. As a result many of our students are missing out on quality instruction. Robert T. Jimenez and Rosalinda Barrera (2000) believe teachers are the key to quality Bilingual/ESL education; "To bring about improvement in the literacy education of bilingual/ ESL learners, the best, most informed, and sustained attention needs to be paid to the professional development of educators, both preservice and inservice". School districts must begin to recognize the importance of having Bilingual/ESL teachers educating our community.
Why are parents in the Kingsville community denying their children entry in the Bilingual/ESL programs?
Many parents in our community believe that because their children speak can speak English there is no need to enroll them into Bilingual/ESL programs. This could not be farther from the truth. There is a big difference in being able to speak a language in a conversation and being able to read, write, and speak a language in the classroom. Often times parents are mistaken in thinking their child is well educated in the English language. Jennifer Hammond wrote about this subject in her article Intellectual challenge and ESL students: Implications of quality teaching initiatives; "The language and literacy needs of these students are often obscured by the fact that they may be fluent at least in informal spoken English. As a result, their academic difficulties are often attributed to a 'deficit' in ability in the students, rather than recognition of the need for on-going support in their language and literacy development" (2008). Even the parents who do allow their children into the Bilingual/ESL program are pressured to pull them out by the fifth grade. Recent studies suggest that might be to early, "Dual language programs that continue into the middle and high school years avoid the problems of many transitional bilingual education programs--that is, the tragic loss of communicative and literate abilities in the student's native language--and foster more complex literacies including biliteracy" (Kimenez, R., Barrera, R., 2000). The bottom line is educators must work within the community to let parents realize that Bilingual/ESL programs are a positive step in their children's education.
According to the Texas Education Agency 2008- 2009 Campus Performance Report, Kingsville ISD is 83.4 percent Hispanic, yet the same report shows only 4.6 percent of the students in Bilingual/ESL program. The state average for Texas shows 16 percent of all the students in the state are in the Bilingual/ESL program. As you can see our area is well below the state average. The question must be asked why the parents are so reluctant to take advantage of the Bilingual/ESL program. In a time when the Latino population is growing rapidly the need for good Bilingual/ESL programs and teachers is essential; "Latino students are an increasing presence in American schools and are the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States" (Tatum, 1997).
Gillett Intermediate (5th & 6th grade) has 2.7 percent of the entire school listed in the Bilingual/ESL program. The numbers get better for the Bilingual/ESL program in the district as grades 2-4 show 8.9 percent of the students, and the grades Pre K- 1 show 11.4 percent of the students are taking advantage of the program. The trend I have noticed most is that many students are out of the program by the time they reach fifth grade. According to Kindler (2002) the highest growth rate for ESL is in grades 7 - 12. This trend is of great concern and I wonder if we are pushing the students into mainstream classes to early.
Districts in our area such as Kingsville, Alice, and Robstown, all have almost identical numbers around 5 percent of the students in Bilingual/ESL. Comparing those three schools, Robstown has the highest number of Bilingual/ESL teachers with fifteen teachers (6.0%). Kingsville has twelve (4.7%) teachers and Alice has the most alarming numbers as they only have two teachers which accounts for (.1%). Corpus Christi I.S.D does not fair much better than Alice, as they have only .2% percent. Corpus Christi I.S.D has 5.9 percent of the students in the Bilingual/ESL programs. While the lack of teachers qualified to teach Bilingual/ESL in Alice and Corpus Christi is extremely low, they pale in comparison to Houston I.S.D. This district has a similar percentage of teachers at 1.7 percent; which is similar to Alice and Corpus Christi. However they have 28.7 percent of the overall students in the Bilingual/ESL program. The question must be asked, who is teaching these students? It must be noted that these three districts teachers percentage are well below the 7.5 percent state average.
The numbers of students participating in the program in our area pale in comparison to the Rio Grand Valley. For instance Mcallen ISD, Brownsville ISD, and Mission I.S.D. have approximately 30 percent of the students in Bilingual and ESL programs. They also have approximately 28 percent of the teachers instructing Bilingual and ESL programs. To me that represents a very strong program and support within the community. While there is no answer that is completely accurate, either the programs in the RGV are better than the ones in our area, or they have more students in need of Bilingual/ESL education. Either way our community needs to improve the Bilingual/ESL program to get more students and teachers involved.