Monday, February 18, 2008

"Too" Early Exit programs

Imagine yourself as a kid. Now imagine yourself as a kid who has just moved to a foreign country...let's call it Hopelandia. You don't speak, read or write Hopeland-ish...but you want to. You get pulled out of your regular classes for a few hours everyday to learn basic Hopeland-ish while everyone else is learning math, science, social studies etc.. After 2-3 years, you are declared proficient in Hopeland-ish and mainstreamed to the regular classes. Unfortunately for you, that conversational Hopeland-ish you learned isn't enough to understand the academic Hopeland-ish that is being used in class, in the text books and on the state exams. Your grades suffer, you get frustrated....oh by the way... you are poor, so there is very little help...sorry.

Early-Exit transitional models for English Language Learning (ELL) students focus on the “speed at which students are mainstreamed than content-area learning.” (Brisk, 1998) When I started researching the need for an online tutoring service for Spanish-speakers, I found this as a program model used in many school systems that promote a "learn English first, then learn academics", mentality. Supported by many as the "American" thing to almost makes logical sense. Almost.

What research shows is this "learn English first" model is a tough row. Why? Because for the most part, the teaching of English and the teaching of academic content are separated. There is a big difference between conversational English..the English you use in social, context rich settings, and academic English. Conversational English usually takes only 1-2 years to attain where academic English can take anywhere from 4-7 years. So what happens in this 2-5 year window? That's what we call the Academic Achievement gap where only 21% of 8th grade ELL students passed Reading and Math in 2005.

What research says is that continuing the teaching of academic content in the student's native language over a longer period of time, while they are learning English, is the way to go. The student can continue to develop cognitive skills appropriate for their grade level and not fall behind the English-speakers.

Seventy-five percent of all ELL's in the US speak Spanish in the home. What Tutor Amigos does by working with non-profit organizations and tutoring Math in Spanish is fill a gap where Early Exit programs, or lack of qualified Hispanic teachers, leave Latino English Language Learners in a void.

In the end, many of us never had to go to school in Hopelandia. But there are 2.7 million others that do now and need to have access to tutoring resources that are readily available.