They are among the best and brightest in Manteca Unified schools.
“They” are immigrants — legal and otherwise.
The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CASPP) test results validates that school districts that just don’t go through the motions of complying with Proposition 227 can do when it comes to opening up student potential.
Last year 41 percent of English only speaking students met or exceeded the state standard in the Manteca Unified School District when it came to English language arts. But when it came to those students that had no or little English speaking capabilities who were immersed in English to the point they became fluent 67 percent met or exceeded the state standard.
There are two forces at work here. First – and foremost — there are parents that are focused on making sure their child succeeds. They may not comprehend much of the lessons their children are doing. What they bring to the table is arguably more valuable. Most immigrants as a whole see education as a path to a better future for their children. While that is true of most parents, it takes on a greater importance to those that have pulled up roots leaving their comfort zone behind seeking a better life.
Right up there in importance are educators that make it work. It takes a special kind of person to teach — especially those that do not have command of the language. You must be patient, persistent, consistent, insightful, and know when to take away crutches.
The results of Manteca Unified efforts to mainstream limited and non-speaking English students underscores two things — the value of immigrants to our nation and its economy as well as the short-sightedness of an American public school system that doesn’t place a greater emphasis on learning a second language.
The first is obvious. Not only do immigrants — illegal and legal — take many critical lower-rung jobs that would otherwise go largely unfilled such as farm labor but they also enter this country on visas to perform critical high task jobs where there are labor shortages.
While there is a legitimate debate that some firms exploit the tech visa program — and foreign workers — to pay below market wages, there is little doubt that the visa programs have played a critical role in keeping the United States at or near the forefront in the dynamic world of tech.
What makes no sense is not having a rationale immigration policy that addresses children brought here illegally by their parents that California taxpayers spend $144,000 over 13 years educating and then we want to deport them. Making it worse the ranks of those illegal students who have turned 18 contain some of the most promising, brightest and driven young people our schools produce.
In short we educate students that are here illegally then after we spend boatloads of money and resources to educate them we kick them out so they can help another country compete against us.
There is a middle ground. It’s too bad the party animals on both sides of the fence are too busy trying to win elections instead of governing.
Then there is our shortsighted smugness that sees teaching a second language in earnest in public schools from the elementary grades on up us somehow a betrayal of American ideals.
It isn’t helped by educators who often cut what foreign language programs are offered the second budgets start tightening up. It’s the same type of myopic elitist thinking that rationalizes physical education as expendable in order to cram in even more college prep courses in a world where only 20 percent of graduates go on to a four-year college while 80 percent become overweight and run the risk of developing a myriad of health issues.
The fact that more than half of the industrialized world has much more of a significant foreign langue requirements that go as deep as primary grades should have no influence on American education decisions. What should, however, are the well documented cognitive benefits — improved memory, enhanced reasoning, sharpened problem solving, stepped up attention, and better judgment among other things — that often come from the process of learning a new language.
Then there’s the little thing about a student’s economic future. You may not like it, but more and more jobs in this country are going to people that are fluent in two languages. Then there is the detail of the global economy.
Good luck with putting the genie back in the bottle.
The real question should be don’t we want all children to have the same opportunity that limited English learners have?
If you don’t think the challenges of learning a second language more often than not sharpens a student’s overall comprehension and therefore improves their changes of not just academic success but also in the “real” world, than ask yourself why former non-English speaking students in Manteca Unified as a subgroup have a 50 percent higher comprehension rate of English and the language arts that accompany it.