So No Child Left Behind, huh? We’ll see about that. The effect of the NCLB on bilingual education and English Language Learners is a hotly debated topic. The National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) initially supported NCLB back in 2001 hoping that the policy’s nature of enforcing high standards on students will bring much more attention to the ELLs. But soon after, it published a paper on the NCLB’s misguided approach to assisting bilingual education. According to the report, the NCLB now certainly does pay more attention to ELLs, just not in the right way. Gleaning from the various analysis on the drawbacks of NCLB, I found two most compelling reasons the policy is not the best for ELL education. One, the distribution of federal grants for bilingual education changed dramatically. And two, it emphasizes English language acquisition, which prompts a teaching-to-tests style of education, making ELLs fall behind even more, bringing the entire school down with them.
The Bilingual Education Act gave federal grants to schools with the best bilingual programs. This concentration of funds enabled those schools to maximize their resources on developing the program and training expert bilingual teachers. On the other hand, NCLB eliminates the competitive nature of the grant and provides funds on a per capita basis. Grants are given to state education agencies based on immigrant population. Each state then gives subgrants to local schools that applied for funding. Although NCLB increased the total spending on ELL education and attempts to give more share to a wider population, the new system distributes resources too thinly. A sum of $676 million was spent on ELLs in fiscal year 2005, but this only gives $109 for each student. (1) The total amount of grants for ELL education increased to $723.1 million in 2012, but hasn’t changed since. (2)
Let me tell you how NCLB works in simple terms:
A standard is set for student achievement.
Students take tests to be evaluated based on the standard.
Schools are sanctioned according to the test results.
This is an incredibly easy process to follow through that keeps the school accountable for student performances and perhaps the quality of education. It also encourages yearly academic progress especially in English language proficiency. The problem is that there isn’t an appropriate method to evaluate ELLs’ academic achievements. Without proper testing procedures and valid test results, how can anyone possibly hold schools accountable?
ELL students are expected to acquire academic knowledge as well as master English and their mother tongue all at the same time. The NCLB also expects students to show yearly progress. In order to assess such progress, the NCLB requires some form of test to evaluate students’ performance. But we must keep in mind that most standardized tests were designed to be targeted at native English speakers. Test Makers did not get together to make problems best suited for non-English speakers. To solve this language barrier issue, the NCLB allows ELL students to take tests in their native language for up to three years. However, not only is this unavailable in many schools, it also poses the question of how reliable translations are in measuring ELLs’ English acquisition. (3)
The Cycle of Death
Since the NCLB can penalize schools that fail to show annual yearly progress (AYP) in meeting their annual measurable achievement objectives (AMAOs), schools are largely dependent on ELLs’ performance to receive federal grants. (4) Thus, ELL students fall in a cycle of death under the NCLB. Insufficient funds allocated to schools prevent the creation of proper bilingual programs. Without appropriate bilingual instruction and assessment systems, ELL students are bound to fail standardized tests. The low scores are perceived as no progress, and the schools lose monetary assistance. Now we’re back to the beginning with limited resources… poor kids.