"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Language(s) Children and Teachers Use in Their Classroom

Results from schools in Houston suggest that bilingual education is producing better learning outcomes. What works, however, requires a thoughtful consideration. The scheme that leads apparently not just to higher scores in language tests, but also in mathematics, is a specific bilingual program called "two-way" dual language. Instruction under this program has the option of either starting with either an 80:20 or a 50:50 model. In the 80:20 model, instruction is given in the mother tongue of the English language learners (ELL) eighty percent of the time and in English, during the remaining time. The amount of instruction in English increases progressively and reaches 50:50 in third grade, which continues until fifth grade, the end of the program. In the 50:50 model, half of the instruction is in English and the other half is in the mother tongue throughout all six years, from kindergarten to fifth grade. What makes this dual language program in Houston unique is its "two-way"nature. This program combines both ELL and native English speakers into one classroom.

The "two-way" dual program along with other bilingual programs like transitional (Students are taught in their native language during the primary grades and gradually increasing instruction in the second language) and "one-way" dual language (This is similar to "two way" dual language except all the students in the classroom are English language learners) has been in place since 2007 so there is now ample data for evaluation. A parent can waive enrollment in any of these programs so there are likewise English language learners (ELL) who have gone through English-only instruction as well as students who have exited the program before fifth grade. Following a cohort of ELL kindergarteners from 2007–08 through 2012–13, Sandra Alvear of the Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC) has compiled a research brief presenting reading test outcomes for these students. The results are summarized in the following figure:


First, from the number of students in each number of cumulative years, it is clear that most students exit the program before fifth grade. Most students do stay until third and fourth grades. And these students perform best regardless of the type of bilingual program. Students whose parents opted not to place their child in any bilingual program are not included in the above graph. These "English immersion" students generally perform better than students who only participated in one year in a bilingual program. This difference however disappears with additional years (3-4 years) and those in the "two-way" dual language program even perform better than those taught only in English. Three to four years in the "two-way" dual language program prove superior to other groups.

The difference between "two-way" and "one-way" dual programs is intriguing. One should take note that these two are the same, curriculum-wise. These only differ in "two-way" programs having native English speakers in the classroom. It is likewise important to note the above graph already controls for gender and socio-economic status. As in other studies, poverty is correlated with lower scores and girls perform better in reading tests. Finally, there is a price tag associated with the "two-way" dual language program. It is not cheap. HERC director  Ruth N. L√≥pez Turley says, “They’re harder to staff. You need to have fully bilingual teachers. You need to have fully bilingual materials. Everything costs more.”




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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Mason Crest Elementary School

Mason Crest Elementary School started in September of 2012. The school is among the 40 Title I elementary schools in Fairfax county. About half of the students enrolled are eligible for free or reduced lunch and about one in five is eligible for special education. Forty percent of the children in the school are English language learners. After all, it is attended by children from over forty countries. The student population is 43% Hispanic, 22% White, 22% Asian, and 8% Black.

The school is young yet in the past three years, the school has served the community of Annandale so well. Test scores are well above average compared to other schools in Fairfax county, a school district that is already regarded as one of the best in the state of Virgina and in the United States. The following test results clearly demonstrate how well Mason Crest compares with other schools.

Subject
Accreditation Benchmark
Percent Passing the 2012-2013 Test Administration
Percent Passing the 2013-2014
Test Administration
Percent Passing the  2014-2015
Test Administration
MCES
FCPS
VA
MCES
FCPS
VA
MCES
FCPS
VA
English
75
85
82
75
84
81
74
92
85
79
Math
70
92
79
71
93
81
74
95
83
79
History
70
97
89
85
96
90
84
97
90
86
Science
70
89
83
81
79
84
80
87
84
82
MCES=Mason CrestFCPS=Fairfax County Public Schools, VA=All Schools in the Commonwealth of Virginia Elementary through High School. The above data are copied from AllThingsPLC


Generally, Title I schools perform worse than other schools because of poverty effects. Fairfax county Title I schools, however, are still performing as well, if not better, than the state average. But Mason Crest, compared to other Title I schools in the county, still shines out as an exception.

Subject
Percent Passing the 2012-2013 Test Administration
Percent Passing the 2013-2014
Test Administration
Percent Passing the  2014-2015
Test Administration
Mason Crest
Fairfax County
Title I Schools Average Pass Rates
Mason Crest
Fairfax County
Title I Schools Average Pass Rates
Mason Crest
Fairfax County
Title I Schools Average Pass Rates
English
85
82
84
78
92
81
Mathematics
92
80
93
86
95
84
History
97
85
96
80
97
84
Science
89
72
79
73
87
70
The above data are copied from AllThingsPLC





Mason Crest Elementary School functions as a Professional Learning Community at Work. Teachers work together as a team. No teacher is isolated. Collaborative team meetings occur on a regular basis at each grade level. No student is therefore seen by only one teacher. All teams work with one goal in mind, to engage every student and improve learning for all students.

I do have two children enrolled in the school so I have the perspective of a parent. The engagement of parents in this school is very high. The Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) is quite active and this year, the PTO is providing school supplies for all students.

Above copied from Mason Crest PTO

A lot of parents also volunteer time and effort in various extracurricular as well as classroom activities. Parents are as engaged as their children. Last year, due to the unusual cold winter weather, there were quite a number of indoor recess periods. One classroom of students was resorting to tablets and IPads but one parent came and encouraged the use of board games instead of electronics. This instance and so many other examples make it quite clear that parents are likewise participating members in this small learning community in Annandale. 

During the first three years, Mason Crest has been visited more than one hundred and fifty times by educators from other states and countries. A day or even a week long visit may not be enough however to appreciate what happens all year round in this school.