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Ask an Expert: Best approaches to ESL instruction.

Q. What are your thoughts about the way most schools handle English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction? Is it necessary to pull students who need extra help with English out of their regular classroom? Sometimes, it seems this practice leads to further segregation.

A. A good school district can effectively offer ESL services without segregating or marginalizing students. In Colorado, schools districts have full discretion in how they choose to serve their English language learners provided that they are protecting the civil rights of their students as held by the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

In accordance with the 1954 case, federal law requires that all schools ask students to complete a PHLOTE Survey upon registering. Any student indicating on this survey that he or she has a Primary Home Language Other Than English is then deemed eligible for language services. Typically, these students are administered an English language proficiency test and are then offered the appropriate service based on the results of the exam. Services range from placing students in Structured English Immersion (SEI) or bilingual classrooms to simply monitoring highly proficient language learners in their mainstream classrooms.

While families have the right to “refuse services,” schools do not have the right to deny services to any student in need. Lau v. Nichols (California) and Flores v. Arizona are two examples of lawsuits filed by families who feel that schools that did not adequately meet the language needs of their children were violating their 14th amendment rights.

Programs and services for English language learners are integral in providing these students access to a quality education, and when administered correctly, they should not deny language-learners of the privileges afforded to mainstream students. Remember, while many adults only learn one language in their lifetime, many children will be required to learn two languages by the time they finish kindergarten. While offering better-than-adequate language services for these children is a complex endeavor for any school district, not offering them is simply inequitable.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.