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Lesson 6.3

Literacy:
Ensuring All Kids Learn to Read, Write and Speak English

School is harder for 40% of California students because…

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What kind of mastery of the English language do high school graduates need if they are going to be successful in college, career, and life? That question was the starting point for the creation of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy that are now driving much of what gets taught in California’s classrooms.

The standards define grade-by-grade expectations across four broad areas: reading, writing, "speaking and listening," and the use of language. They also describe a set of "capacities" that students need to exhibit with increasing “fullness and regularity” (see below).

The Common Core English Language Arts Capacities

  • They demonstrate independence.
  • They build strong content knowledge.
  • They respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline.
  • They comprehend as well as critique.
  • They value evidence.
  • They use technology and digital media strategically and capably.
  • They come to understand other perspectives and cultures.

The standards establish expectations that are broader than English class, as their official title indicates: The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects set requirements for literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects.

From about 6th grade on, teachers in history, science, and other subjects help students develop and use their literacy skills through practice in the specific content areas. The standards don’t say a student has to take physics, for example. But if a student does take physics then the teacher needs to supplement content information with instruction on how to read the textbook, write about the subject, and so on.

To provide guidance to school districts and curriculum developers, the state officially adopts a "curriculum framework" that sets out expectations for textbooks and other instructional materials aligned to the standards. In the past, the state also adopted specific materials and earmarked funds for their purchase. With the passage of the Local Control Funding Formula in California and other legislation, districts will no longer have to purchase state-adopted materials. But they will have to certify that materials align with the standards.

English Learners

English is a second language for many in America. English is a second language for many in America.
In California, more than 40% of public school children speak a language other than English as their “first” language. In education-speak, these students are called “English Learners”

In California, more than 40% of public school children speak a language other than English as their “first” language. In education-speak, these students are called “English Learners” (EL) or “English Language Learners” (ELL) until they are “reclassified” as English proficient, a process that varies by district. One important and required yardstick is the California English Language Development Test (CELDT), which measures the English reading, writing, speaking and listening skills of EL students.

Source: LAO - Cal Facts 2016 (click image for more)

In November 2012, the State Board of Education adopted a set of English Language Development standards to help guide instruction for English learners.

Primary language of students learning English, out of all public School Students 2014-15

To meet the unique learning needs of non-English speaking children, some recommend separate learning materials and classes. Some also propose that a multi-lingual educational system should embrace and expand these students’ proficiency in their primary language.

The Politics of Multilingual Education

Unsurprisingly, political considerations electrify discussion of these matters. In 1998, voters passed Proposition 227, which required that nearly all California public school instruction (except foreign language classes) be conducted in English. But times change. In 2016, voters took another look at the issue and overwhelmingly passed Proposition 58, which repealed the restrictions on bilingual education in Prop. 227. Ed100 Lesson 6.16 provides research on the importance of biliteracy skills).

English teachers lack nothing when it comes to passion for their work. A prolonged disagreement about how best to teach elementary English once earned such explosive headlines that it was dubbed "the reading wars." The debate centered on whether students should learn to sound out words phonetically (the "phonetics" camp) or to recognize them as distinct words (the "whole language" camp). This complex debate no longer seems to spark much emotion; learning materials evolved to include elements of both approaches.

Next Steps

Literacy starts at home. The earlier the better. By age 3, children from high-income families are exposed to 30 million more words than children from families on welfare. Research now indicates that reading to children, more than talking, builds greater literacy skills. It makes sense: The language in books is usually more enriching than everyday speech.

Schools and parent groups can use this research to support literacy at home. For example, Reading Rockets and Colorin Colorado provide downloadable fliers in many languages. The California State PTA provides grade level guides to help parents understand Common Core literacy standards and see if their children are on track.

Next we"ll look at fluency of a different sort: science, technology, engineering, and math, known in edu-lingo as the "STEM" subjects.

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user avatar
Carol Kocivar February 12, 2017 at 9:54 am
From San Francisco Public Press: "How San Francisco Paved the Way for California to Embrace Bilingual Education" outlines the growth and success of programs and implications for Prop. 58.
user avatar
Carol Kocivar March 12, 2016 at 1:43 pm
The future of Proposition 227 is on the ballot in California in November 2016.
The California Multilingual Education Act (Senate Bill 1174) repeals the requirement that all children be taught English by being taught in English and instead allows school districts and county offices of education, in consultation with language experts in the field and parents, to determine the best language instruction methods and language acquisition programs to implement.
Find out more...https://ballotpedia.org/California_Multilingual_Education_Act_(2016)
user avatar
Carol Kocivar November 9, 2015 at 10:51 am
Here is the link to the California English Language Standards Electronic edition.
A little easier reading presentation:
http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/el/er/documents/eldstndspublication14.pdf
user avatar
g4joer6 April 15, 2015 at 9:39 pm
The English Language Development Standards doc in the link above is a bit overwhelming. I like the idea of recognizing "emerging" skills. Thanks for all this good info. Will review it a second time.
user avatar
dnplank May 4, 2011 at 1:59 pm
We persist in thinking of English learners as if they are somehow marginal to California's education system, but in fact more than half of the students entering California public schools speak a language other than English--Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Arabic and dozens of others--at home. Many other students in urban and rural areas speak non-standard dialects of English and have little or no familiarity with the linguistic conventions on which academic success depends when they enter school. And yet both our policy and our practice too often remain bound to the comfortable but mistaken idea that teachers and students speak the same language.

If we want our students to master the conventions of standard English we have to TEACH them those conventions, not just in ESL class but across the curriculum. Doing this would require us to think very differently about how schools work, though, so instead we shift the main burden of responsibility to the students themselves.
©2003-2017 Jeff Camp
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