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Absence of English language teaching assistants concern students

There will be no teacher's assistants for the Office of English Language Learners (ELL) at Loudoun County Public Schools next year and Indu Radhakrishnan, a junior at Broad Run High School, sees that as a problem.

Radhakrishnan has started a petition that currently has 256 signatures to restore the positions of TAs that are being cut as part of the 2014-2015 budget. She said that the cuts to ELL were due to the lack of advocates for the ELL population.

“There's no one speaking out for these students,” Radhakrishnan said.

The inspiration to start her petition came after she discovered that a TA at Broad Run High School, James Dunning, would be losing his job. While Radhakrishnan has never been in ELL classes herself, Dunning coached her debate team at Broad Run and Radhakrishnan said she's seen the impact that Dunning and other TAs have had on ELL students.

“The TAs are really helping these kids so much more than their job description,” Radhakrishnan said.

The ELL program is designed to provide English language instruction to non-English speaking students in grades K-12. Roughly 130 ELL TAs are being cut, according to Timothy Flynn, LCPS director of instructional services. However he said that they will be replaced by 38 certified ELL teachers who will provide better instruction to students.

“Now they'll be served by actual ELL teachers,” said Flynn. “A licensed ELL certified teacher has at least a bachelor's degree and specialized training in ELL. That's a significant advantage.”

Radhakrishnan said that she worries that the additional ELL teachers won't be able to make up for the loss of the TAs, especially if the increased number of teachers don't also make up for those teachers lost due to natural attrition.

“That's a huge logistical problem they're going to have next year,” said Radhakrishnan. “They failed to provide any support to schools that will be left floundering without them.”

ELL operates by having self-sustained classes taught by ELL teachers to help students with either minimal or non-existent English skills. Students with increased English skills are then mixed in to regular classes. The self-sustained classes are taught by full-time ELL teachers and ELL TAs either assist in these classes or aid the ELL students placed in regular classes.

While Dunning has found a job next year as a special education teacher at another LCPS school, he said that he's still concerned as to how the program will change without the presence of ELL TAs.

“The information that's been conveyed is very thin and that's why we're worried,” Dunning said. “We really haven't received information specifically why or how it's going to be implemented.”

Flynn said that information about the changes has been relayed through both an online presentation and a meeting where all ELL teachers were invited to discuss the upcoming changes. ELL TAs were not invited to the meeting.

Dunning is concerned that ELL parents may not be aware of the changes to their children's education.

“The ELL population places a lot of faith in the school system,” said Dunning. “They often don't get involved. None of the parents really know this happened to their education system.”

Flynn said that due to the elimination of the TAs there may be an increased emphasis on team teaching, but that there is not a specific plan as to how that would be implemented.

Dunning said that increased team teaching could be difficult for both ELL and regular teachers alike, especially due to cuts to professional development programs for teachers.

“That would significantly reduce the number of self-sustained classes and it's going to affect schedules of non ELL teachers as well,” Dunning said.

Radhakrishnan said that the overall goal of her petition is to draw awareness to how the elimination of ELL TAs will affect students so that changes can be made.

“We end up kind of forgetting about them and the people that make them great, the TAs,” Radhakrishnan said.


@ unknown and cowbell: You’re overlooking the long term implications of a failure to properly accommodate immigrant students. First, please understand that not all immigrant parents - perhaps the minority of them - have enough resources to secure basic housing and food, maintain a low-wage job, navigate the culture and institutions of a foreign country, and still oversee their children’s immersion and assimilation into new schools with new people communicating in a new language. Many came here escaping poverty, financial disaster, and sometimes even war in their home countries. They entrust the county (with their tax money, as well) with providing for their children what they themselves don’t have. it is an incredible task, trying to help children adopt a foreign language, establish a grasp on American academic culture, and assimilate socially all at once. Their parents are no better suited then they are; how can we expect them to shoulder the burden alone?

But with respect to the economic argument - I promise that it really is in your interest as a taxpayer to make sure English language learning programs in school are effective. We will only need more staff, more funding, more attention paid to ELL if the program further deteriorates and immigrant students languish for longer periods of time in this system. The county is *required* by state and federal law to provide for students’ English acquisition, and there are proficiency standards that *must* be met by Loudoun’s ELL students. The problem will not go away on its own if we simply chastise immigrants families and tell them to figure it out.

I beg you also not to forget that immigrant students are future adults who will become either productive members of society or hopeless dependents of the welfare system. Your tax money is not buying education as a gift for these students, but rather is being used as an investment in what is a growing demographic of the next generation. They could all grow up to be engineers, medical researchers, philosophers, Wall Street billionaires - but none of them will be any of those things if they don’t have a foundation on which to build a life in this country in the first place. I agree that it’s time people learn to live independently and provide for themselves. But that will never happen if we turn a blind eye to those who are already positioned at the bottom.

agreed cowbell

unknown, I understand your frustration with this issue, as well as the larger, very thorny challenge of immigration reform that continues to elude easy resolution.

A couple of points to consider, though. You rightly reference your “hard earned” tax dollars and, similarly, we need to place just as much value on the “hard earned” tax dollars the parents of these ELL students pay to our schools as well. And while these students may require more resources than most to help them learn English, your comments on paying out “$$” for a math tutor for your child and that you “do not feel as if LCPS should be paying teachers to teach our language” highlight the much larger but directly relevant issues at stake here.

I am concerned that you are put in the position of having to shell out (probably significant) money to help your child succeed in math when you are already taxed at a rate of $12,000 per year to teach your child math and other subjects. More to the point, we do pay our teachers “to teach our language” to all students, so we should be more than a little concerned that 50% of our graduates must take non-credit remedial English classes their freshman years in college (the same holds true for math as well).

No matter how you feel about the value to society and our community of doing everything we can to enable immigrants to succeed in school and beyond, this problem with the ELL program is part and parcel of much deeper issues with our “success” in educating all students. Keep in mind that your non-ELL student in need of extra help in math has barely a 50% chance of graduating from college.

Our tax $$$ should be going toward teacher raises(police and fire too) and not paying for extra teachers(TA’s) to teach kids English. I pay extra for HS parking, sports, SAT tutoring, College admission forms….Why can’t the parents of these students pay for their kid to learn English? These are only TA positions not the actually ELL teacher…

So because a person does not speak English, our hard earned tax monies should go to teaching these kids English.  Well sorry I disagree.  I had to pay $$ hard earned money to get a tutor to help my child with math.  If you live or move to the US then you need to rely on yourselves to learn our ways and our language.  I am sure there are plenty of students and teachers looking for some extra money.  I do not feel as if LCPS should be paying teachers to teach our language.  If you move to another country, do they pay their teachers to teach their language I think not.  Also there are so many illegal aliens that attend out schools and already use our resources.  Sorry its America and I can speak how I feel.  I am sure there are many others that feel this way but wont speak out because its not “politically correct” To heck with that our ancestors did it (learn on their own) stop making it a lazy society and make people accountable!

Several churches in Loudoun do indeed offer ELL classes to the community, and it is a lovely, generous, and forward-thinking gesture.  However, most residents are probably not aware that LCPS expects to have 6,000 students enrolled in ELL this fall.  This is not just a matter affecting a few students.  It’s a community situation.

Also, it seems to me that it is becoming a matter of discrimination. We don’t tell any other group of students that we will not teach them the skills they must have to make a future for themselves.  We don’t tell students who want to learn mathematics and science that they must look for a local business with volunteers to teach them chemistry or calculus.  As a community—in the wealthiest county in the United States—are we going to look some of our neighbors in the eyes and tell them their rights are just not as important as others? 

I fervently hope we do not.

My church does ELL programs at one elementary school as well as one that is church based. An easy solution is to refer the kids to church or other nonprofit based ELL programs and make it optional. Good enough?

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