Bill Sizemore: Next time, talk to me first.

By Jim Hiller of Beaverton, Oregon. Jim describes himself as "a left-handed, imaginative educator with an interest in politics, history, and writing."

For us Oregonians, we are familiar with the annual fall ritual that overtakes our state from time to time. No, I’m not talking about the turning of the leaves, or the rains coming in from the Pacific, or even the shortening days and cool evenings.

I’m talking about Oregon’s infamous “Measure” season, when Oregonians get to vote on things like teacher unions, or banning homosexuality, or gutting the state’s tax system. Oregon’s latest season is ripe with many education measures once again, all bad ideas proposed by the anti-everything measure king Bill Sizemore. One of the most heinous ideas: Measure 58, Oregon’s “English-only in schools” law.

The impetus for this law is quite charming. Apparently, Sizemore was talking to “a couple of teachers” who claimed that students were forced into classes for “English learners” when they could have all along been in regular education classes. The hidden messages in his reasons suggests that:

  1. Students are forced into these programs against their will
  2. Students languish in these programs without a way to leave them
  3. These programs are detrimental to a child’s learning by depriving them of a “real education”

Nothing could be farther from the truth. My experience, working in a school where I had eight to ten difference languages in my classroom every year, was entirely different.

First, parents who come to our districts have a legal right to opt out of any special programs offered by the school. Every year, I knew of a student or two whose parent would choose not to allow their child to attend our ESL program. While I may or may not have agreed with that decision, ultimately, the decision rested with the parents, end of story.

Second, the students who are in ESL programs are tested every year, based on their language capabilities. Students are given scores, which are shared with teachers and parents, that inform them of their language development. Students who progress to a successful level are exited from the program, but may still be monitored by the staff in case of any issues.

Third, these programs do something for the children that the regular education teacher often cannot. While ESL programs look different across districts and the state, most offer smaller group instruction to students, specifically tailored to learning our language. Students are placed in groups with other students in their same language profile (for example, beginners to English are placed in a group) with teachers trained and certified to teach English to students learning our language. Often, ESL teachers work in conjunction with the classroom teacher to reinforce vocabulary and concepts taught in the classroom. Once, I had the fortunate gift of having an ESL teacher co-teach science and social studies units directly in my classroom!

The other part of this issue are schools that offer Two-Way Immersion or Dual Language classes, which are taught in both the students’ native language and in English. The theory behind this says that students who learn to read and write in their native language first actually pick up reading and writing in English more quickly. Why, you may ask?

It’s quite simple. You only learn how to read once in your life. Let’s say I decided to learn Spanish. I wouldn’t need to learn the act of reading all over again; in fact, I can pretty much sound out Spanish rather easily (although to a native speaker, I’m sure I sound hideous!). I would need much help with vocabulary, language structure, and pronunciation to help me understand what I was reading. But I can still do the act of reading.

So you take a boy from Mexico who speaks fluent Spanish. Teach him to read in Spanish first, and he only has to worry about one cognitive task. But trying to teach him to read WHILE learning English, and now he has two cognitive tasks, compounding the problem.

Sizemore would rather put him into a classroom, quite possibly with a teacher who hasn’t been properly trained in any ESL strategies, so that he could pick up English “more quickly”. To me, that smacks of Republican elitism if not out and out racism. Let’s make his educational experience as hard and difficult as possible, so that when he gets to high school, he just simply drops out. Schools are obligated to provide the best education for their students. Why would anyone want to tie school’s hands when serving our most neediest and most deserving population?

So, Mr. Sizemore, when writing up your next set of twenty-five ballot measures that most Oregonians are going to vote down simply because you’ve sponsored them, talk to me next time. I’ll give you a few ideas. If all it takes for you to get ideas for these measure is “talking to a couple of teachers”, then I’ll help you create one that people can actually support.

Comments

  • Eric Parker (unverified)
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    Any initiative attributed to Sizemore, Mannix, McIntyre, or Parks in any way gets a NO vote. Why? Jim clearly told us one reason why. Billy boy has to distinguish between an actual, thoughtful complaint and a full out "bitching about my job" moment.

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    the students who are in ESL programs are tested every year, based on their language capabilities.

    Interesting. Are these students then compared to a control group of students with similar characteristics who have not participated in ESL? If not, how can you "know" anything about the efficacy of your belief system?

    So you take a boy from Mexico who speaks fluent Spanish. Teach him to read in Spanish first, and he only has to worry about one cognitive task. But trying to teach him to read WHILE learning English, and now he has two cognitive tasks, compounding the problem.

    Very logical. Sounds reasonable. Is it the case then, that you are referring only (or mostly) to students who arrive at the school door illiterate in all languages? How does their performance compare to the performance of students already literate in one or more languages?

    Third, these programs do something for the children that the regular education teacher often cannot. While ESL programs look different across districts and the state, most offer smaller group instruction to students, specifically tailored to learning our language.

    I think that we're all clear that smaller groups of students where individuals get more personal attention will wind up providing a benefit to that sub-group of children who fall behind in a larger class setting.

    I'm betting that the same is true of students studying English as a First Language.

    <hr/>

    Here's a study (of studies) that claims that there is precious little evidence that your assertions are the final word on ESL.

    Here's the pullquote:

    of the 300 bilingual program evaluations studied only 72 were methodologically acceptable and of that 72 only 22% found traditional bilingual education better than regular classroom instruction when the outcome is reading, 7% when the outcome is language, and 9% when the outcome is math. Suggests that findings do not favor transition bilingual education.

    BTW: I hate Bill Sizemore too, but not enough to adapt to his mythology based style of thinking.

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    And I'm left handed too!

  • Beth C. (unverified)
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    I'm a teacher and have had many Spanish speakers in my class. I completely agree with Jim. When a fluent Spanish speaker enters my room and is already reading, we shouldn't stop him from reading in Spanish to learn English. He should keep reading and advancing his his native language while learning a second language - in this case English.

  • RichW (unverified)
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    I think we ought to beat kids who don't speak English exclusively in school. Any kid uttering a foreign word gets a slap up side of the head. More severe punishment for speaking full sentences in non-English. Look how well this worked at American Indian Boarding Schools.

    We need to give schools carte blanche in order to produce the creme de la creme. We are, ipso facto, a single language nation. English is our lingua franca, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!

  • Jim (unverified)
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    Are these students then compared to a control group of students with similar characteristics who have not participated in ESL?

    Actually, these students are given a test in the spring that encompasses reading, writing, and speaking components scored by a teacher. From these results, the students are assigned a level that describes their current language development and how well they are speaking English. Students that achieve a certain score are eligible for exiting the program.

    Is it the case then, that you are referring only (or mostly) to students who arrive at the school door illiterate in all languages? How does their performance compare to the performance of students already literate in one or more languages?

    Students arrive at our doors in many different situations! It's quite interesting. One year, a new student in my classroom came from France. She was able to read in her first language quite well. As she picked up English, her growth in reading skyrocketed through so many levels that within a few months, she moved into my regular reading groups. My teammate had a boy from Mexico who featured the same rapid growth. The challenging thing for these students was trying to get their vocab to catch up with their reading level. Tricky things like idioms kept on throwing them. :)

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    I think we ought to beat kids who don't speak English exclusively in school. Any kid uttering a foreign word gets a slap up side of the head.

    In The Netherlands (Holland) students are taught two languages other than their native Dutch. U.S. industries are often at a disadvantage because of the nation's monolinguistic attitude. Learning a foreign language encourages improvement in one's native language, something badly needed in this country. Like I mean it's incredible. The last thing we need in our educational system is the Taliban-like system suggested above. English is one of the world's richest and most important languages in part because it has incorporated words from other languages by speakers not having to worry about getting slapped up the side of the head.

  • Charles (unverified)
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    Simple solution, a person who has been convicted of an election law violation either -entirely looses the ability to manipulate the system cannot be a petitioner, nor can generate personal income from that enterprise or outright ban from filing or receive personal funds supporting any facet of an initiative petition This should only be opposed by those who have been convicted of election fraud or are afraid they me manipulating the process illegally in the future. I weaker compromise is to demand an irrevocable bond to cover the government election cost, and expenses of the opponents should there be aby ehis or election law violations

  • RW (unverified)
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    Bill: the italicized material you comment on - number one I suspect they are just trying to get a rise out of you... but just ONE generation back, this precise tactic was used to break individuals' ties to family, self, culture. Walking amongst us daily are indigenous who were treated this way or have siblings who were. Mothers, Fathers, Aunts and so on back. But, literally, people OUR age were beaten or physically stigmatized in government schools and forced into one of a selection of missionary churches on their reserves.

    On the one hand I agree we NEED multilingualism in America. HOwever, to naively believe that every non-native non-english speaker is just craving to share the secrets of their culture and to totally invest their hearts and souls into making America thrive? That is simplistic. We have a huge bandwidth of truly grateful investors to the opportunistic extreme.

    America is unbelievably wrongheaded to NOT be offering at least three languages at the grade school level and starting at least there. Music the same. These are critical world-citizenship skills that would remove huge blindspots from our navigation out in "the world".

  • Tyrone Reitman (unverified)
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    <h2>Here's a press release about the Citizens' Initiative Review of M58 that is being conducted by an organization I helped to found last year. -- Tyrone</h2>

    Citizens' Review off to a great start!

    9/23/2008

    Salem, OR. Oregon's first Citizens' Initiative Review got off to a great start on Sunday, Sept. 21st. A panel of 23 Oregon voters, randomly selected to represent the diversity of the state, has been meeting over the past three days in Salem to discuss the merits of ballot Measure 58, which proposes limits on bilingual education programs in public schools.

            "This is democracy in action." Said, Elliot Shuford, a Co-Director of the non-profit organization Healthy Democracy Oregon, which is sponsoring the Review.
    
            Over the first three days of the process this "citizens' panel" has heard testimony from the proponents of measure, represented by Bill Sizemore and Rick Hickey, and from opponents of the measure, Gary Hargertt and Lynn Reer.  Members of the opposing team were appointed by the Parents and Teachers Know Better Coalition, the formal campaign against Measure 58.
    
            Both the pro and con advocacy teams have called additional witnesses to provide information to the citizens' panel, including Lin Crimshaw, an Oregon educator experienced in teaching English and a second language; and Margaret Dugan, the Deputy Superintendent of the Arizona Public School System. Eight years ago the voters of Arizona passed Measure #203, a measure that shares many similarities to Measure 58.
    
            After engaging in extensive question and answer sessions with both sides of the debate, the citizens' panel has opted to hear from additional "background witnesses" including state administrators and school superintendents, to learn more about the potential impacts of the measure if passed. The panel will continue to learn more about the measure over the next two days in order to evaluate the proposal.
    
            At the conclusion of the five day review process the citizens' panel will draft a "citizens' statement", evaluating the measure and providing a source of peer-reviewed, in-depth information to voters statewide. The panel will read the Citizens' Statement on the north steps of the State Capitol at the conclusion of the Review on Thursday, 9/25, at 4:45 pm.
    
            "At the conclusion of the review process, these voters will present their own findings, in their own words, and in their own voice. The goal here is to provide all voters with a trustworthy source of balanced information on ballot measures," said Healthy Democracy Oregon's Co-Director, Tyrone Reitman.
    
            The Review is being sponsored by the non-partisan, non-profit organization Healthy Democracy Oregon. The Citizens' Initiative Review is designed to provide a fair and balanced approach to evaluating ballot measures. The CIR demonstration is meant by the organization's directors to continue a conversation with the Legislature about enacting  the reform into law as part of Oregon's ballot initiative process.  "The purpose of running this demonstration of the Citizens' Initiative Review is to show the public and the state legislature that another approach to meaningful initiative reform is possible. It's been an inspiration to watch this panel conduct the review," said Reitman.
    
  • throowrocks (unverified)
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    Leaving comments stating how you "hate Sizemore too"paints the majority of your ilk into sad corner.Democrats have controlled the public education system for many years.Graduation rate on a steady decline. Teachers unions kicking and screaming to keep the things the way they are. For once, do whats right for the students, no matter what ideology comes up with the solution. If this doesn't work, you can always go back to the 50% gaduation rate your so proud of.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)
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    Sorry, throowrocks. Sizemore wrote the initiative. Anything he writes is automatically crap. Any Sizemore initiative gets a NO vote no matter what it is. Just vote NO and we don't have to worry about him or his petty issues.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)
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    ..and that includes any other initiatives that are also either written or has any remote connection to Loren Parks, Kevin Mannix, and Don McIntyre.

    NO NO NO NO NO

  • RW (unverified)
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    Good morning, and looks like you are first up at the bat for my attention. Since you are busy sniffing about at the graduation rate and do seem to believe yourself a pundit on this subject, let's take a look at your post and some li'l ol' red pen items you should correct and bring back before we give you your grade:

    1. Leaving comments stating how you "hate Sizemore too"paints

    (Edit: place comma after "you", please; space after "too" please)

    1. too"paints the majority of your ilk into sad corner.Democrats have controlled

    (Edit: see the trend as regards spacing? See if you can identify where you need to space and correct, please.)

    1. paints the majority of your ilk into sad corner.

    (Edit: content concern. Meaning?)

    1. many years.Graduation rate on a steady decline.

    (Edit: spacing, as always; also, sentence fragement - please provide complete sentences/thoughts.)

    1. Teachers unions kicking and screaming to keep the things the way they are

    (Edit: what is wrong with this punctuation? Correct and return for grading.)

    1. For once, do whats right for the students, no matter what ideology comes up with the solution.

    (Edit: apostrophe, making it "what's" [contraction for "what is", you see]; and, and ideology is unable to "come up" with anything. Please complete your thoughts and return for grading.)

    1. If this doesn't work, you can always go back to the 50% gaduation rate your so proud of.

    (Edit: again, apostrophe. I am sure can find and correct it. Return entire sample for grading once you have taken care of all of these errors.)

    SO, throooooooooowocks: about that graduation rate you were bitching about.

    Goooood morning Blue OreGON!

  • rw (unverified)
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    ... and, dear throwing rocks, I do notice that slip of the keyboard there that delivered us a redundancy in the form of two "ands" together. Regretful.

  • Lou (unverified)
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    <h2>Jim--I agree the measure is a sham and not good for students. It's going to pass, though, if the Oregon Education Association Staff strike does not end soon.</h2>
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