Wednesday, November 02, 2016

The Buffalo ESL Miracle

Last Saturday I spoke with Regents Commissioner Betty Rosa, who told me that the new revision of Part 154, which makes draconian cuts to English instruction for ELLs, was working very well in Buffalo. I've reached out to teachers I know in Buffalo, and they have not yet heard about what a success it is.

They tell me stories of teachers pushing into classes instead of teaching. They tell me that no one is happy, not the students or the teachers. In fact, they tell me that Betty Rosa visited one school and that a bunch of troublesome kids were shuttled all over the building to be kept away from the VIPs. Of course, Betty Rosa may have visited other schools. And Part 154 may indeed be working somewhere or other. But what I see is absolutely no evidence.

Dr. Rosa also told me that research supports this move, but failed to cite any. I've read a lot of research by Dr. Stephan Krashen, and it suggests to me something I've suspected and lived most of my life--that teaching kids to love language is what makes them successful. Dragging them to a new country and making them immediately do the same work as those who've lived here all their lives is counter-intuitive and counterproductive. It's like taking your baby, who hasn't yet learned to walk, to tango lessons.

Things like these might make someone feel good, or proud, or accomplished, but they cause a lot of needless suffering. In fact Dr. Rosa publicly and accurately criticizes other state officials for doing similar things. I saw her speak at George Washington Campus and she spoke of how those who wish to test newcomers ought to go to foreign countries and take tests in foreign languages. I've been saying that for decades and I couldn't agree more.

I have no idea why the chancellor or anyone would wish to hang on to a program that has no basis in logic, research, or practice. Nor have I got the remotest idea why it was instituted it in the first place. If anyone wishes to ignore the fact that these ideas have no basis in anything I've ever heard of, you can simply look at the other regulation--that ELLs cannot be in the same class with anyone more than one contiguous grade from them. For high schools, at least, that's a ridiculous and impossible mandate.

If my very large school, with 500 ELLs (10% of the entire Buffalo population), if we were to do that I'd have opened the school year with one class of 40 and one of 6. It's ridiculous. For small schools, it's absolutely impossible. That's probably a large reason they've done away with stand-alone English instruction as much as they possibly could. In Betty Rosa's new and improved vision, high school English instruction need only be given one period a day for one year. That's it.

The following year, based on the results of the NYSESLAT, a test originally designed to test language acquisition that no longer tests language acquisition (no, really), the kid could be in an English class reading Macbeth. And that's OK according to Part 154, because there will be an ESL teacher in the room with the English teacher explaining the vocabulary to the ESL students.

That makes sense, doesn't it? Well, not to me, and not to you.

But the geniuses in Albany have deemed it OK, and that's all that matters. It kind of makes me nostalgic for Merryl Tisch. I mean sure, she was a fanatical ideologue who didn't know jack squat about education. But she also never messed with ESL, because she didn't give a fiddler's fart about it.

Ironically, newcomers stood a much better chance of learning English under that regime. 
blog comments powered by Disqus