Los Angeles Unified School District has been under fire for their meek success rate in English Learners. The district, which has the most English Learning students in the nation, has drafted new measures targeted towards improvement. But perhaps what needs to be looked at is not the content that is being distributed, but how it is being distributed– specifically, who is distributing it.
Lynn Murphy is the ESL teacher at John Adams Middle School. She’s been teaching ESL for ten years. In the time since she’s started, the program has changed a lot– and it continues to change.
“It wasn’t necessarily bad but it was an entirely different atmosphere. It was very overwhelming and the ESL kids got lost,” said Murphy. “Now it’s much smaller and intimate. To me, now it’s a safe, comfortable experience as opposed to what it was.”
Even though the program has improved, Jorge Calderon, assistant principal at Adams MS, says students still find themselves trapped in the ESL program, unable to get out.
“Ideally, it should take them two years to exit the program,” says Calderon. “But there are many children that spends more than five or six years in there. That is not okay.”
Students need careful attention for retention, something that the new plan focuses on.
“Teaching has changed so much and I’m teaching more levels of ESL at the same time. It used to be that you only taught one level per class, but now I have three levels in one class. I’ve had to change my style, jump around to each group and know exactly where everybody’s at and what they can do- what assignments they need guidance for, what activities, what they can do independently,” Murphy says.
Her problem is not unique to Adams MS. In fact, it’s not even unique to the district. The gross shortage of ESL teachers in the nation is reflected in the fact that there is only one ESL teacher for every 150 ESL students. With not enough teachers to carry out the new Master Plan, a lot of the content goes to waste.
Budget cuts have also seen Saturday school and summer programs go down the drain– all of which Murphy says were vital to ESL students because it reinforced what they learned during the school day.
According to the Adams MS Spending Report, ESL is allocated a little over $100 thousand. After teacher salaries and expenditures, the program has a little under $4 thousand left. Overall, the school has about $44 thousand left over from budgeting. That money, which could be used to help alleviate “budget cuts,” is currently unaccounted for.
Murphy has alleged that higher ups and administration have kept students in the ESL program in order to receive more funding.
“A lot of our ESL students are not true ESL students. If Spanish is spoken at home, they’re automatically put into ESL when they shouldn’t be,” said Murphy. “It’s a flawed system.”
As an ex-ESL student myself, I recall being placed in the English Learning program at second grade, despite the fact that I had passed previous grades at the top of my class. Though my parents argued with the administration, they eventually gave up and I spent a year learning how many days were in each month.
That year was a year that I could have otherwise spent in an advanced placement class, which I enrolled in a year later because my test scores placed in the 98th percentile. The same could be said of other ESL students, some of whom still do not have the opportunity to do so because education administrators are using their power irresponsibly.