Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Webpage Link

Here is a link to my embarrassingly primitive Webpage
I tried!

Monday, May 4, 2009

CIQ Abstract and Conclusions


The purpose of this project was to examine the classroom experience of English Language Learners in New Jersey, both in the urban and suburban areas of Newark and Carteret, and how these issues relate to state testing and No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Interviews were conducted with faculty members at East Side High School in Newark and Carteret High School in Carteret, NJ. Both schools were chosen due to the sizeable populations of ELL’s that both schools serve. ESHS is located in the Ironbound section of Newark and serves ELL’s who regularly experience language difficulty when transitioning between speaking native languages like Spanish and Portuguese to English. Carteret High serves a population of ESL students who speak mostly Spanish or Punjabi. The project findings suggest inequity in the NCLB system as students within the three levels of ESL are held accountable on state tests before they have a sufficient command of English. Consequently, these state examinations are the same tests that are used to predict AYP for the school and may push it towards a “failing” status. Therefore, it is increasingly important to make changes to the system that holds ELLs accountable for language knowledge before they are ready.


This project taught me an immense amount about teaching in an urban district as well as the kinds of issues students, teachers, administrators, and parents have. There is a lot of bureaucracy when it comes to urban education, especially as it relates to NCLB and the equity it sometimes fails to create for students. The project topic began on a hunch and ended with some definitive examples of inequality within NCLB and examples where the purpose of the initiative isn’t matching up. The process started with a review of literature on the topic. Through analyzing publications like Double the Work and others, I saw that the progress of those students still in ESL and those students who have left ESL is very important as it relates to state tests.

During my interviews, I learned that state testing is a point of frustration for ESL teachers. The task of preparing students without a core understanding of English for a far-reaching, all encompassing Language Arts and Reading component of a state test, especially one that may include a cultural bias, is a difficult one. The testing process for ELLs and their teachers is made even more frustrating because of the fact that the final outcome, the test score, often doesn’t reflect the work that is being done.

Often, the more I read, the more upset I became that the system appears to disadvantage a large population of learners. In talking with teachers in both districts, I learned that high school students have it worse than students who learn English early, but, at the high school level it is nearly impossible to show progress or acquisition of new language and reading skills. The gaps in the system make it possible for good students to fall through the cracks, all because they can’t prove their progress on a state test. Thus, the SRA process is the only way they can graduate high school.

If a newly certified teacher is planning on being able to serve all populations of students, especially those who from diverse communities, then he or she needs to consider language and its impact in the classroom and on state tests. Furthermore, as a future English teacher, I need to be aware of the role that language plays and plan accordingly. If I plan on being able to serve different populations of students and plan on being able to teach anywhere and in any environment, then I have to be prepared to teach ELLs the skills they need to succeed once they leave ESL and find themselves in a new classroom and using a new language. The project findings have opened up my eyes to NCLB and its effect on school systems and the education of ELLs in the state. This is all information I will likely use in my career as a teacher.

Project Findings

My project centered on ESL programs and issues facing ELLs in the state, especially in regard to state testing and accountability through NCLB. In the beginning of my research, I saw that there was a definite issue in preparing ELLs, or English Language Learners, for the same state examinations that students take who already have a command of English. As per the NCLB requirement, students who are in ESL have to show that they are showing progress in the acquisition of English. I learned from the head of ESL in Newark that a lot of the ESL students are asked to state tests before they reach level 3 for ESL, which means they can't write a full sentence or read and understand the material. These tests then predict AYP for the school and can designate whether or not it is deemed a "failing" school.
Through the data presented in my project, I have found that primary language and language ability is an integral issue for ELLs attending East Side High School and Carteret High School. These programs are tailored to the specific needs of English Language Learners in its classrooms. However, with regard to NCLB and making AYP goals, One teacher I interviewed at ESHS believes that the school will always be at a disadvantage because of the fact that the ESL students in the school are held accountable on the state tests. She said, “Somebody needs to help these kids. Nobody sees what we do. The state requirements don’t reflect all the work we’re doing. We’re putting in the work and we’re being penalized for it.”
Some issues associated with urban education, namely primary language in the home and parental involvement with school, do have an impact on an ELL and his or her ability to learn English. Often times the parents do not speak English and cannot help with the work. Also, students in Newark work as many as 20 to 30 hours a week. It is extremely difficult when one considers the fact that some of these students are asked to take, and pass, a state test when they can’t write a sentence in English. It’s even harder to imagine that these scores then allow the school and its teachers to be held accountable.
Also, the teachers commented that many students slip into speaking their primary language in their content area classrooms as well as outside of school, both socially and in work environments. The Ironbound section of Newark, for example, lends itself more towards a Spanish speaking culture than an English speaking one. The culture within the community next to East Side High is palpable. The school also employs people who are able to dealThe tendency to speak Spanish and to spend less time learning a new language could certainly be a factor as to why the ELLs progress on state tests is less than that of other students.
The project discovered that certain elements of NCLB disadvantaged a group of learners simply because of the testing element. From the interviews I conducted with teachers who were brave enough to be completely forthcoming, I learned that this is true. I learned that the system, fundamentally, is unfair to ELLs. It asks them to acquire knowledge of a new language in a shorter amount of time than is needed and then asks them to produce an understanding of English when classroom time hasn’t afforded them the possibility of having a command of a single sentence.
As seen from the data regarding primary language and the racial background of residents in the Ironbound district, language is a huge part of a student’s everyday life in his or her primary surroundings. Spanish and Portuguese are spoken on the streets surrounding Independence Park, where people go to meet up with friends and family. Spanish and Portuguese restaurants, cafes, clubs, and businesses are all main fixtures within the community, drawing in outside influences as well as maintaining inside influences. The students are a reflection of their community, and the school system responds to the community in which the student’s live.
Tutoring services, community resources, secretarial staff, guidance staff, and teachers all aim to understand the community and the languages used as a means of integrating themselves into Ironbound as well as integrating students into the English speaking world. However, in Carteret, ESL teachers were the students’ sole source of language help and understanding of language difficulty. One teachers adds, “I know because they tell me their problems.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Some Thoughts on Unequal Childhoods

I have encountered many themes and things to consider while reading Unequal Childhoods. I think there are also more than a few main ideas that I could come away with from reading the book that I could also apply to teaching. The book gave a unique glimpse into the home lives of the students. These students could just as easily be our students. Or, we may meet students like them as teachers- regardless of age. Though I don't plan on teaching elementary school and won't have experiences with children that are the same age as the kids I met in this book, I'm aware that even older students can have similar issues and even respond to them in ways that are similar to those in the book. Unequal Childhoods gave me a glimpse of what affects school age children and how much of an impact their home lives (and the stress associated with them) can have on learning. Instead of sitting in our classrooms wondering about the home lives of our kids, we can get a window into it.

The question I saw on the faces of lots of people in class last night was (or seemed to be)"Well, how would we know these kids have problems?" Or- "How would we know they are overworked or stressed?" You know. At least I can say this from my own experience. You certainly get a sense of which individual students have it tough and which walk the line of Tattinger family and live off of $100,000 salaries. Our frames of references don't lie to us necessarily and it appears like they are there to guide us to certain truths. Intuition is a good natural compass. I do feel like sometimes you have to be tough. Not pushy, but tough. I've had more discussions with crying kids over seating arrangements in class than I would perhaps like to admit. But, in the end, you can't honor EVERYONE's needs. The classroom is environment is hard, perhaps, because it doesn't always lend itself to complete equality. If you give one student a pass, you have to give it to another. But, reading Unequal Childhoods and taking in the main ideas communicated with regard to class structure will certainly make me a more observant teacher. I guess I appreciate the window that the book gave me and the fact that it allowed me to notice how "at home" issues impact learning and the learning environment. I don't feel like I can then blame the kid falling asleep in class if I know how his family life is structured. But, I think now I may know better how to help.

Strangely enough, while reading Unequal Childhoods, I found myself wondering more about what kind of PARENT I would want to be than what kind of TEACHER I would want to be. Or- more acutely, how I would combat the issues dealt with in the book and the very different parenting styles that were communicated throughout the study and in the research. I found myself wondering: Do I identify more with concerted cultivation or the concept of natural growth? At what point do we "let kids be kids?" At what point do we intervene and lead them? These questions absolutely relate to who we are as teachers, how we choose to do our job, and how we will do it well. It all seems to hark back to the idea that if we are open and available and ready to be mentors and leaders as much as we are educators, then we can really make the difference.

But, I judged the parenting insights that were in the book a little harsher and I tried to apply that to what my idea of parenting this early in the game. I was dismayed at the examples offered about Katie Brindle's mother and how she appeared to take little to no interest in her own daughter's schooling. I can't imagine I'd ever be an absent parent- but how do you juggle job and children? But- the other side of that reminds me of examples from The Feminine Mystique where the mother/housewife has so little to do in her own life that she lives vicariously through her own children, pushing them to do something she never did or, in the modern day context, getting involved with school projects as a way of adding substance to her own life. I don't think I believe so much in natural growth that I would naturally expect my own child to just be entirely responsible for their own viewpoint of the degree to which he or she should be involved in their education. I feel cautioned against the concept of furthering a sense of entitlement in my own children, but I would still want to encourage them to stand up for themselves and their beliefs, even if it means challenging authority. Sometimes when you're right, you're right- regardless of who you are engaging in a conflict with. Parenting wise- it appears like perhaps we have little control over how our lessons are interpreted and followed. While I'm a huge advocate of letting "kids be kids"- how do you then help them to become adults? Are the viewpoints on parenting held by the Williams family, the Tattingers, or the Marshalls wrong? Do we necessarily blame them for wanting the best for their kids? As a parent, how do you "walk the line" between concerted cultivation AND natural growth? How do you do it as a teacher?

As I read about the Tattinger family- I automatically felt like there could be a possibility that Garrett could become very spoiled. It's clear that he lived a fairly privileged life- but he appeared to see soccer and other activities as a burden. This burden was keeping him from "just being a kid." As a potential parent, I would want to encourage my kids to do whatever activity they may be interested in, but without "pushing it." I couldn't help but feel that by encouraging piano or soccer or gymnastics (or anything else) that I would be advocating concerted cultivation and leaving little room for a child's own natural growth. But, on the flipside, I was impressed with Tyrec Taylor's sense of self, sense of right and wrong, personal drive, and personality. His mother must have done something right. Maybe she didn't personally cultivate him like he was a living business plan, but, she allowed him to be just who he is and he appeared to honor her lessons outside of her care. I agreed with the way some of the upper class parents chose to raise their children- especially with the Williams family- and with respect to conducting oneself properly, having a good vocabulary, understanding the world, and thinking for yourself.

With regard to teaching, I remember recounting a story about an experience with a parent to a friend of mine who is also a seasoned teacher. I don't remember the exact story or occurrence. But, at the end of it, he said, "Oh, so you expect parents to be parents?" And, I guess, that's true. I do. I know that my parents (though, admittedly, mostly my mom) was, at all times, a parent. I think that when I am a parent I will have a harder time figuring out to do when encountering a parent who ISN'T acting like a parent.

I don't yet know how to leave my views out of it. I've also had the bad fortune in seeing the look on a kid's face when their parent doesn't show up for the poetry celebration, or the band concert, or the social studies play. That's the part of the teaching profession that goes hand in hand with Unequal Childhoods but can't be communicated in the book itself. But, clearly, parenting and individual parenting styles has a lot to do with it. It has a lot to do with the school as an institution- as parents from different social classes communicated education and school differently to their children. Sometimes it was of supreme importance and other times it was a government institution to be avoided or manipulated. I think the book gave us all a glimpse into issues that will relate to our classrooms, impact our job, and impact the lives and learning of our students. I didn't know how much class figured into the equation...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Blog 11- What have you found? (I'm a little bit behind)

Blog 11

I am little bit behind in terms of piecing together some of the research that I've been doing for the Community Inquiry Project. Some of my interviews appear to be panning out while others aren't working. I have had the chance to survey the neighborhood around East Side High School- my target school- twice now. I've mapped sites and I took pictures around the school and of the school itself. I noticed how much of a role culture plays in this particular neighborhood and, therefore, the kind of role that language plays in the everyday life of the students. It is clear to me that ELL's bring their experiences to the classroom and that the state tests that ask them to test their knowledge are trying to cater to them where they can, but occasionally fall short. I am in the process of piecing through some of the literature out there to get a sense, without speaking to a teacher or administrator, whether or not NCLB disadvantages this core group of learners. However, through Double the Work, a piece of literature put out in NYC through the Carnegie Corporation, I am learning interesting facts that relate to ELL's and their experiences trying to learn English and make certain benchmarks within the states they live in and as they relate to NCLB.

I have an additional contact with an ESL teacher at Carteret High School. I'm not yet sure what role this contact will play in my project. However, I had a chance to walk around Carteret High and saw huge differences between this school and East Side High. I may use data collected from my observations and from speaking with this teacher to make a comparison between the two places. Perhaps an urban environment is not the only place that a teacher who is not ESL certified may be struggling while meeting a language barrier. It may be interesting to compare the two locations as appearances could be deceiving. But, with first glance at a website (not really legitimate though) I came across something that said that teachers at Carteret don't care about the students. I didn't get the impression while taking in the building, the field, and the surroundings of the suburb. I'm thinking that an urban vs. suburban comparison in terms of ESL and English Language Learners could be very interesting, but I'm not yet sure how it factors in.

I am learning that my inquiry question is definitely worth exploring- as language creates a definite barrier for many urban teachers teaching in urban environments. It is another piece of the puzzle that we all will likely have to consider if we decide to teach in an urban environment. So far, based on information from the NJ Report Card for 2007 (I can't seem to find data for 2008) approx. 23% of students at East Side High (hopefully my target school for the project- if these interviews pan out) are considered limited language proficient. 34% speak Spanish at home and 46% percent speak an Indo-European language. Since the school is centered in the Ironbound district, I am pushed to assume that this could include Portuguese. 50% of the school speaks English, but almost 50% (the other half) speaks another primary language. So, therefore, we can assume that more than a few of the students in East Side's classrooms speak a language other than English. The data speaks volumes about the situation going on in this school, but I feel as though I need the remarks from teachers and coordinators at ESH to confirm it.

Part of this project for me involved seeing what the primary issues are for ELL's, what kinds of things are pulling on them and their success in school, and the resources that are available to them to help them to pass state examinations and prosper in their learning environments. East Side does offer SRA help after school with bilingual teachers and bilingual language arts teachers. I have not yet found if there are resources outside of school and in the community that serve the same purpose. The tutoring services at East Side also help with the HSPA- the state examination that NCLB restrictions are contingent on. Also, through the help of the NJ Report Card site and its East Side's profile, I can see the scores on these tests and where the issues lie. This will definitely help me when I am able to conduct my interviews.

This project is beginning to shape my understanding of public education. The first thing I have learned is to try not to judge a book by its cover. By looking at Carteret High, one might not even think that the school would have any sort of issues. It is fairly unassuming, it's kept up well, and sports appears to be a main focal point of the school. However, it didn't make AYP either. East Side, however, is littered, dirty, not well maintained, and, stuck smack dab in the middle of a city. It looks as though nobody cares about it, but you can't just naturally assume that the school then has issues. In some ways, East Side may be thriving, (it's special and vocational programs look excellent) and in others, it is trying to catch up. Also, public education is not just about what you do Monday through Friday while in the classroom, but it's also about policy and understanding policy, NCLB, and the tests. I am gaining an understanding of what the tests are, how many, what the tests TEST, and who the tests impact. It's really not just cut and dry representations of "pass" or "fail"- but what you have to do as a teacher to prepare your kids. Sadly, or maybe regrettably, I would be lying if this project didn't force me to think about changing my certification from English to History. I'm realizing that test preparation and my effort will be an important part of my job, especially as it relates to ELL's.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Online Assignment for 4/13

It appears as though the economic troubles of the poor families we’ve encountered would be exacerbated if these families lived in New Jersey. Even with an adequate income, it appears, through the Cost of Living Index, that a family of 4 cannot exist on 60,000 dollars a year, let alone less than that. It appears that the cost of living in Virginia would be less of that in New Jersey- so children and families living here need that much more to get by. New Jersey appears to offer low income housing opportunities to families who need it, but amenities like food stamps or government assistance seems harder to come by. The reality of the situation would certainly be graver for the families we have read about if the location was moved to Essex County, New Jersey.

First, the Self-Sufficiency Standard is based on several family types: one adult with one preschooler; one adult with one preschooler and one school age child; and two adults with one preschooler and one school age child. The economic strain varies between the family types. As the number of children increases, the wage needed to support them naturally increases too. In the case of New Jersey, from $13.78 for one adult to nearly $30 an hour for a family of two. This would be impossible to attain for the poor families encountered in Unequal Childhoods. For example, the cost of child care will increase for a family with two kids versus a family with one.

Thus, the cost of living index would be troublesome for Harold McAllister’s family, especially since the family situation there includes the economic strain on his mother to take care of his cousins as well as her four children with no job and no professional job training. The Self-Sufficiency Standard described in the cost of living index doesn’t include statistics for a family of four. Mrs. McAllister provides a home for her niece and nephew, but takes on the burden of providing for them as well. If Mrs. McAllister could obtrain a job that offered her the $30 an hour wage needed to get by, she would still have too many mouths to feed and the resources available would be over-extended. The income of $67,000 would not be enough for the McAllisters as it is the lowest possible amount needed for a family of two in New Jersey. (40,000 for one adult and one child in Essex County)

Reading Unequal Childhoods has been eye opening. All the while, it hasn’t been hard to relate the issues that the children of various economic statuses experience to the classroom. Having worked as an aide in an affluent area of the state, I am aware that just because children are economically privileged doesn’t mean that they don’t have problems. A few of the children were experiencing divorces between their parents, illness, and pressures from their parents, a possible bi-product of “concerted cultivation” that teachers regularly have to manage. I distinctly remember a boy in a family of four that appeared to struggle with perfection and living up to his parents astronomical expectations as a means of gaining entry into the Accelerated Math program. One bad grade and he was in tears. Therefore, it’s important to know the diverse needs of the students you’re working with, because often times kids go to their teachers for help. Perhaps if you aware of their struggles and understand them, you can give them the help they need, educationally speaking or not.

However, these issues are a different kind than those that the children in poor families experience in Unequal Childhoods and I would venture to think that they’re a lot more manageable than insufficient food, lack of funds, parental involvement, or issues stemming from the neighborhood that the child lives in and the type of family environment, or lack thereof, that is created there. The research presented in the book has given me a window into these kids lives and I wouldn’t perhaps get that just from teaching them. The book shows you what happens after school and what happens in the home. It gives you the opportunity to understand what is pulling on kids and what could affecting their education based on economic status.

Economics and demographics relate to teaching because we will likely use any statistics or information to better teach those students. It’s important to know the “population” you are serving. As a teacher, one would need to know the make up of an area that they plan to teach in. What types of jobs might their parents have? Is it an industrial area? What’s the median income? All of these may in turn relate to how children learn and the approach they take towards their education. If, say, a majority of the town doesn’t hold a college degree and works mainly in local industry, the accepted attitude may not be one of placing importance in higher education, so the student may not be as active in pursuing a college education, especially if economics and demographics tell the teacher that he or she may not be able to afford it.

In regards to the definition of disposition, one’s nature or temperament also plays a role. Situations, like teaching children in poverty, may affect one teacher more than another. Personally, I’ve always debated how much my emotional nature and tendency to “take in” the plight of others will affect me as a teacher and my ability to do my job. Others, however, may be of the temperament where they figure that they will just not get involved and keep a distance from issues in the classroom. Unfortunately, it appears that you need to do your very best to treat each child equally. I foresee this being a problem when the world, in a sense, is very unequal and some are more advantaged than others. As a potential urban educator, I think it may be difficult to encounter inequality and still manage to maintain at atmosphere where everyone receives the same treatment. Or, better put, you need the poster board to do the project whether your economic status affords the student the opportunity to buy it or not.

Monday, April 6, 2009

CIQ Introduction

One issue within urban education that is especially important to analyze are English Language Learners, otherwise known as ELL's, their school experience, and how certain policies, especially NCLB, and the impact it has on English Language Learners and their journey to learn English and integrate into English speaking classrooms. One way to effectively integrate ELL's into English speaking classrooms is through ESL or English-as-a Second-Language, programs. These classrooms aim to prepare students for the work in their classrooms where English is the primary language as well as to prepare them to take state tests that later judge their progress as well as compare them to other students and other schools in the state. The problem therein lies in the fact that the outcome of the state tests often determines whether or not a school and its students is designated as "failing." What resources are available then? How can we change the situation if the performance of ELL's is a factor?

Unfortunately, if ELL's are not prepared properly for state test and experience language difficulty, then this could mean big changes for the schools and teachers that help them. Even by providing these students with highly qualified teachers, as is the focus of NCLB, the students may still meet difficulty in second language acquisition and fall behind.

The focus of this project will be ESL programs, limitations that language creates for teachers and students, the possible limitations of ESL programs and the resources available and how it relates to NCLB, AYP goals and test scores, and possible restrictions and effects on schools and students. The project will aim to figure out what sort of issues are facing ELL's and what, if anything, is being done to combat the issues they face inside and outside of the classroom. Furthermore, to establish a connection to urban education, the project will also strive to determine the impact that certain issues associated with education in an urban environment like parental involvement, reading skills, resources, or primary language in the home effect the learning of ELL's.

The impact of NCLB and other policies on ELL's as well as the issues facing ELL's is especially important for several reasons. First, there is a connection between primary language capability and the policies at the heart of No Child Left Behind. For example, as outlined in an article called "Double the Work," despite a “growing awareness” of the issues affecting these children, many of them continue to struggle with literacy, reading, and writing in a new language. Policy and challenges to policymakers is also a growing concern and the article suggests things that can be done as well as the stalemate that occurs regarding NCLB restrictions and other restrictions. This is a key issue regarding students with limited language capability as these students are not tracked once they leave language programs designed to help them integrate into English speaking classrooms. Occasionally, ESL stdents are not "tracked" in terms of their progress. This is disconcerning as it relates to NCLB because without knowing their progress, students may lack the skills needed in the areas of state tests that NCLB aims to assess.

Secondly, we need to know the struggles that ELL's are met with in their education and the problems that teachers face when looking to integrate ELL's into English speaking classrooms. Also, establishing resources for these students is important because not only will it prepare them for the issues facing them in their classroom, but it will also prepare them for the job world and ensure that, though English was not their second language, there are opportunities for these students out in the world. Educators and policymakers in the state should aim to equalize education for all learners, including ELL's. There's little way to solve the problem, or even identify that it exists, without speaking to teachers first. Identifying classroom issues would be beneficial, but especially so if it points out an obvious flaw in the NCLB system of establishing AYP based on test scores that aim to put selected populations of students at a stark disadvantage.

Lastly, within the realm of urban education exists factors that may impact the education of ELL's and it's important to identify these issues, if they do exist, and zero in on the impact on an individual child's education. In urban areas of the state that serve Hispanic children like Newark, Carteret, and Paterson, Spanish culture is heavily integrated into Hispanic neighborhoods with bodegas and laundromats on one side and tiny Spanish and Mexican restaurants and hangouts on the other. Flyers advertising classes to better learn English are stapled on telephone poles next to dispensaries for Spanish language newspapers. For many ELL's whose first language is not English, they find themselves at a disadvantage. Therefore, this question is important to study as a means of figuring out how these issues impact the education of ELL's and aim to answer individualized questions like why parental involvement may impact second language acquistion, why the reading levels of ELL's may stagnate, or how extra resources may make movement from Spanish to English easier for a population of students who find themselves immersed in an environment that asks them to produce different languages in different contexts.