Friday, July 10, 2015

The Stupidest Thing I've Read All Week

I read a lot these days, mostly online, so there is a lot of competition for that particular honor. There's Donald Trump, to give just one example.  It's tough to outdo the Donald, as he is a preposterous figure, albeit expert in self-promotion. Personally, I think we need a different standard for people who run education, and are therefore assumed to have educational expertise.

Readers of this blog know well the NYC DOE can always find a place to shine, and it did so this week in a PowerPoint presentation explaining the new state requirements. You will need to use DOE cred to sign in, and I apologize in advance to readers without it. In its never-ending goal to help kids who need it most, NY State has decided to cut direct ESL instruction to newcomers.

Instead, it will devote time to integrated courses, to be either co-taught by ESL teachers and certified subject area teachers, or by subject area teachers with a 12-credit ESL extension. The beauty of this, for administrators who don't give a crap whether kids learn anything, is they can now hire one teacher where they used to need two. They can then cut staff and use the money for fact-finding missions to Oahu, or whatever it is their particular buildings need.

A problem, though, is that they've taken away direct instruction in ESL and substituted pretty much nothing. That is to say, kids who take social studies, math, English and science will still do so, but in one of those classes there will either be a qualified ESL teacher or someone who took some magic summer courses, likely as not from NYSUT. This begs a few questions.

1. How will having a more qualified subject teacher, or teachers, mitigate the fact that the time, test and curriculum for the course is exactly the same?

2. How will having less direct instruction in ESL help any English Language Learners?

3. Why is NYSUT taking any part, direct or otherwise, in a program which will most certainly cause working ESL teachers to lose jobs?

I haven't got any answers, and if you do, I'm all ears. But I led you on with the headline, so let me now share the stupidest thing I've read all week. It's from the PowerPoint. This, according to the geniuses at the DOE, is why we offer direct ESL instruction:

Standalone ESL is instruction to develop English language skills so that students can succeed in core content courses.

I do not teach kids English for that reason. I teach kids English because it is a fundamental need for them in every aspect of their lives, and if there are exceptions they are few and far between.  If it helps them succeed in core content courses, which I’m certain it does, that’s fine. But there’s something really wrong with having people who think like that make rules for kids.

The assumption that core content courses, or any courses for that matter, are the purpose of educating children in English, or indeed any discipline, is so blatantly ignorant that it has me at a rare loss for words. It is our job to prepare children for life, which is something much broader than "college ready." We are role models, not Lucy on the chocolate-wrapping assembly line.

I question the lucidity of any mind that could conceive the goal of learning English is to succeed in core content courses. That's like saying the goal of learning to walk is so students can get to the bus stop more quickly. It's like saying the goal of breathing is to be able to answer higher order questions as set out in the Danielson Framework.

It's so stupid I could probably go on for quite a while, but I will spare you. And saying "this week" is nothing if not an understatement.

Where do they find these people and why on earth are they given the power to make decisions for children about whom they clearly know less than nothing?
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