Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How OEIB Funding Priorites Hurt ELL Students

Here is the official testimony from an Oregon teacher regarding the funding priorities set forth by the Oregon Education Investment Board at their Salem public forum.  Pat Muller teaches English Language Learners (ELL) and is concerned about the impact the OEIB priorities would have on her students.

Dear OEIB Board:

I have been monitoring your public hearings about investment in education. It’s disappointing that so few of the Board members actually attend these meetings. I’m hoping to see a summary of these meetings posted from which you have been universally receiving negative feedback about many provisions of the funding plan for which you will probably move forward despite the fact of complete lack of transparency and public support.

You eloquently state that we will no longer have an achievement gap, yet your proposal only serves to reduce the funding necessary to provide services to special education students and English language learners. While class size increases across the state, expenditures increase for data collection, high-stakes testing, and new regional centers where mentors will show teachers how they can work even harder with fewer resources and achieve even better results.

*English Language Learner (ELL) funding*

We have come a long way from the days when anyone with an Hispanic surname was classified as ELL and funds dispersed to districts. We now have procedures for identifying ELL students and monitoring them throughout the process.

What is still lacking is accountability for how this money is spent. The money should be spent exclusively on services that directly benefit ELLs. Examples include: ELL specialists, ELL teaching assistants, professional development, intervention staff, translation services (to be supplemented from the general fund for students not classified as ELL but whose parents need services), ELL TOSAs to assist general education teachers in meeting the needs of ELLs outside of ELD class, and district office support for ELL staff.

ELL money should not be spent on anything that should be funded out of the general fund, including Spanish instruction for English speakers in dual immersion programs.

Before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, we need a reporting method where districts are responsible to show that the money is being spent for its intended purpose. Only then, and with a transparent public process, should we look at how to more effectively fund and manage this budget.

The majority of districts are not meeting AMAO which has targets for: percentage of students moving up one proficiency level, percentage of students exiting the program, percentage of long term (>5 yrs) who are exiting the program, and percentage of students passing the OAKS reading and writing. Why is this happening? It is happening because the targets are not research-based and unattainable. And from this, we will be labeled as a failure.

The proposed ELL block funding will harm students. Districts will be pressured to exit students before they are ready as general fund resources diminish. Students on the margin of any exiting decision will also be exited.

You can’t claim we are over serving students. If that were true, our achievement numbers would look drastically different. Many students come to kindergarten speaking no English. So let’s say we are given 5 years of funding. Students would have to be exited before they enter middle school. Looking at the statewide achievement of ELLs at the middle and high school levels (dismal), we will no longer have funding for a program at those levels. *And since they will have been exited and are no longer classified as ELL, then VOILA!! We will have no achievement gap because the students will have been classified as general population! Good job Oregon!

Both middle and high school ELL programs would cease to exist under the proposal, except for a skeleton program for newcomers. Districts would retain the responsibility after the funding has run out, yet another unfunded mandate. In the middle of a school financial crisis across the state, this is the wrong time to reduce funding for our at-risk students.

The proposal states that there are places where students are exiting faster than the state average, implying that this could happen everywhere. Where exactly are these places and how did they do it? Would they be able to continue to do it under the new funding formula proposed? If you were disappointed with the number of sick people in a hospital, then pushing them out the door would not help. Saying that students who previously had to jump four feet now have to jump five feet doesn’t do a thing to get them over the bar.

I am an ELL teacher in a model elementary school. I guess that makes my testimony suspect as my job probably wouldn’t exist under the new funding proposal. I could always get another job, maybe working for the high-stakes testing industry, where there seems to be a large influx of money. But in the meantime, don’t mess with my students’ opportunity for a future, because this won’t happen on my watch.

Pat Muller

Oregon Save Our Schools

McMinnville Education Assocation

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