Over the course of time, major laws, policy documents and landmark decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court as well as other federal and state courts regarding bilingual education have shaped educational policy in the United States. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution, a response to Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), established the constitutional basis for the educational rights of language minority students. Within a decade, Title VI Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in federally funded programs. Subsequently cited in many court cases, it basically stated that a student has a right to meaningful and effective instruction. In 1974 the US Supreme Court reaffirmed the 1970 Memorandum regarding denial of access and participation in an educational program due to inability to speak or understand English. This action was the result of the Lau vs. Nichols class action suit brought by Chinese speaking students in San Francisco against the school district in 1974. “There is no equality of treatment by providing students with the same facilities, textbooks, teachers and curriculum, for students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education.” The memorandum further affirmed that “Basic English skills are at the very core of what public schools teach. Imposition of a requirement that, before a child can effectively participate in the educational program, he must already have acquired those basic skills is to make a mockery of public education” (Lau vs. Nichols, 1974).
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In accordance with what are known as the Lau Remedies, in 1975 the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) established some basic guidelines for schools with Limited English Proficient (LEP) students. Although there has been much change in terms of public policy, the ultimate challenge of implementation rests upon the teacher.
Throughout the United States public school teachers are challenged to meet the needs of an ever-increasing number of English-language learner (ELL) population. By the turn of this last century, the population of students identified as limited English proficient (LEP) has grown exponentially. From 1995 to 2001 alone, the LEP population grew approximately 105% nationwide (Kindler, 2002). According to recent estimates there are 4.5 million LEP students are currently enrolled in K-12 public schools in the United States. U.S. Census Bureau estimates indicate a continued trend of linguistic diversification in the years ahead (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). Due to a linguistic shift the student population is experiencing, the educational community has had to fix its focus upon multilingual classrooms, and research set in multilingual classrooms has risen in importance. While there are “specialists” who work with limited or non-English speaking students initially, the student’s integration into a multilingual i.e. “mainstream” classroom is essential. Hence, teacher attitudes are an important consideration in terms of relevant professional preparation.
Despite the amount of research being conducted in regard to bi-lingual education, there is a lack of information in the educational community regarding teacher attitudes toward including English-language learners in mainstream classrooms. There exists a void in the area of research concerning mainstream teacher perspectives on ELL inclusion. As an array of societal attitudes develop regarding ELLs, so to do teacher attitudes.
Of particular interest to this researcher are the experiences of secondary teachers, especially within the Long Island region. Because this area, which despite its cultural diversity has received so little attention from the research community, the design of this study will be driven by the need to help remedy that paucity of research by examining secondary mainstream teacher attitudes and perceptions of ELL inclusion from a regional perspective.
The general purpose of this study therefore has been to broaden the existing body of knowledge by identifying teacher perceptions of the impact of ELL inclusion upon their teaching, measure teacher’s perceived impact of inclusion on the teaching environment, and assess teacher attitudes concerning ELLs. This study also provides data which highlights areas which require attention or resolution.
Upon review of two studies, one by Reeves (2004), and another by Walker, Schafer and Liams (2004) of secondary teachers’ experiences with ELL inclusion, questions were developed to examine secondary teachers’ attitudes and perceptions of ELL inclusion in mainstream classes. Upon review of these studies four significant themes surfaced. The Reeves study, albeit larger in scale, provided a sound basis for this treatment. Those salient themes became the following research questions which have guided this study:
1. Inclusion in mainstream classes: What are teacher attitudes toward ELL inclusion in mainstream classes?
2. Modification of coursework for ELLs: What are teacher attitudes toward the modification of coursework for ELLs?
3. ESL professional development: What are teacher attitudes toward ESL professional development?
4. Teacher perceptions of second-language acquisition processes: What are teacher perceptions of second-language acquisition processes?
There are several terms that need to be defined for clarity of understanding. These are:
Bi-lingual: The ability to speak two languages easily and naturally
ESL: English as a second language
ELL: English language learner,
TESOL: Teaching English for speakers of other languages
Mainstream: Mainstream in the context of education is a term that refers to classes and/or curricula common to the majority of students.
All subject-area teachers were from 3 district high schools within a 25 mile radius of this researcher have participated in the survey by mail. The faculties chosen for participation in the study were from the three high schools with the largest population of ESL students during the 2008-2009 school years. This was determined by use of public domain resources (www.city-data.com). High schools with the largest ESL student populations were identified to enable access to the largest number of teachers who had working with ESL-inclusive class loads. Participants were surveyed remotely via mail during the month of July 2009.
As an array of societal attitudes develop regarding ELLs, so to do teacher attitudes. Although there exists a void exists in the area of research concerning mainstream teacher perspectives on ELL inclusion, this review of the literature will provide a basis for further inquiry.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2002), English Language Learners number over five million ELLs in the United States. This number has risen by 57% over the past ten years and shows no sign of slowing. Within the Long Island region (the focus area of this research), schools continue to experience steady growth in the number of LEP students. In 2007 the number of the students having limited English proficiency reached seven-year high. The appearance of these recent demographic changes requires increasingly greater self-examination within the educational community since teaching and learning is indeed a two-way exchange. The proliferation of professional literature throughout the educational community is evidence that the shifting demographic is being explored, and hopefully addressed in a number of ways. According to Ballyntyne, Sanderman and Levy (2008), more and more teachers of “mainstream” general education classes, who normally do not have special training in ESOL or bilingual education, are faced with the challenge of educating these children. While research exploring the perspective of ELLs is abundant (Cummins, 2000; Fu, 1995; Harklau, 1994, 1999, 2000; Lucas,1997; Lucas, Henze, & Donato, 1990; Mace-Matluck, Alexander-Kasparik, & Queen, 1998; Valdes, 2001), research concerning mainstream teacher perspectives on ELL inclusion strikingly absent. This section will examine the insights which can be gained from the existing research as a basis for further research.
Although there has been relatively little research in the area of teacher attitudes toward ELL inclusion, a number of qualitative studies exploring the schooling experiences of ELLs have, at least peripherally, addressed the subject. Those teachers chronicled in the studies were portrayed as holding negative, antipathetic attitudes (Fu, 1995; Olsen, 1997; Verplatse; Valdes, 1998, 2001). There were also some positive, welcoming attitudes noted however (Harklau, 2000; Reeves, 2004; Fu, 1995). Olson (1997) conducted an ethnographic study of a California high school, which had seen large demographic changes in a 20-year period. At the time of her research, the school population had shifted from 75 percent to 33 percent over a 20-year period. The remaining students were 26 percent Hispanic, 14 percent African American and 26 percent Asian. About half the students spoke a language other than English at home. The racial composition of the staff was mostly white. Based upon the study, Olsen concluded that typical to the process of Americanization, newcomers to these United States in our high schools undergo academic marginalization and separation. She asserts that there is pressure to become English-speaking and to drop one’s native language in order to participate in the academic and social life of the high school. In his study, Fu (1995) concurs, observing that English teachers and untrained ESL tutors used methodologies and had attitudes which could be characterized as typical. Most showed strict adherence to curricular demands, appeared frustrated by the additional workload or lower standards the students possibly represented for them, and in the field of second language acquisition, lacked adequate understanding. Fu further noted that the teachers had low expectations, gave complicated explanations, lacked sufficient time, and used outdated approaches.
Valdes (1998), who reached similar conclusions, observed four students within classroom interactions, interviewed school personnel, and conducted independent, formal assessments of Spanish and English language development at the beginning and end of each academic year when possible. Valdes (1998) argues that English language teaching for most immigrant students in the United States is ineffective because it is rarely meaningful or purposeful; uses outdated methods; is often taught by untrained, if well-intentioned, teachers; and erroneously places blame for lack of progress on the student.
Fu (1995) suggests that second language learners from the United States are often perceived by teachers as inferior in comparison to English language students who are of a different class. Teacher perceptions of ELLs can affect educational outcomes in a number of ways. This is supported by Harklau (1999) who conducted a study of about 100 ESL/LEP students in a suburban high school in northern California over 3 years. The research compared their experiences in mainstream content classes and ESL classes. She concluded that tracking of ESL learners into low-track content classes can have serious long-term negative educational and occupational consequences. She concludes that much greater interaction between mainstream and ESL teachers is needed. Although teachers in the above studies, were generally found holding ambivalent or inhospitable attitudes (Harklau,1999; Verplaetse,1998), there were notable exceptions. According to Fu (1995), when some teachers were able to achieve curricular goals by allowing the students their own personal and cultural connections to the material, they were gratified by the results.
It has been suggested by researchers that a number of factors that could be influential in how teacher attitudes are determined, whether they be welcoming or unwelcoming in nature. Reeves (2004) notes three categories which emerge as preeminent: (a) teacher perceptions of the impact of ELL inclusion on themselves, (b) impact of inclusion on the learning environment, and (c) teacher attitudes and perceptions of ELLs themselves. In a study by Youngs (1999), teachers cite a chronic lack of time to address Ell’s unique classroom needs. Additionally there exists an apprehension among some teachers based upon the perception that workloads will become unmanageable when ELLs are integrated into the mainstream classes. Verplaetse (1998) adds that some professionals expressed feelings of inadequacy to work with ELLs. The impact of inclusion on the classroom learning environment, has lead to teacher concerns about the possibility that ELLs will in some way hinder class progress through the curriculum (Youngs, 2001), or may even create inequities in educational opportunities for the students as a whole (Platt, Harper, & Mendoza, 2003; Reeves, 2004; Schmidt, 2000). More recently subject-area teacher attitudes and perceptions of ELLs have become emergent topics of research, including an unwillingness to work with low-proficiency ELLs as well as misconceptions about the processes of second-language acquisition (Olsen,1997; Reeves, 2004; 2000). Additionally, assumptions about the race and ethnicity (both positive and negative) of ELLs are cited (Harklau, 2000; Valdes, 2001). It is important to note that all of the aforementioned studies were qualitative in nature. Furthermore, the number of teachers as participants was small; few focused primarily upon mainstream teachers.
In their quantitative study of 143 middle school teachers, Youngs and Youngs (2001) conducted an investigated the attitudes of mainstream teachers toward ESL students in middle and high schools. In the mainstream, they conclude the most pervasive attitudes toward teaching an ESL student in the mainstream ranged from neutral to slightly positive. Gitlin, Buenda, Crosland, & Doumbia (2003) conducted a qualitative study observed 5 ESL teachers, 10 white students, the ESL program director, and a school administrator. Their interviews centered on how these individuals viewed the ESL program, classroom practices, and cultural relations in the school. They identified and analyzed documents on extracurricular participation by ESL students, on school discipline, and on busing policies. In characterizing teacher attitudes, the researchers concluded that “Many teachers equate ‘cultural difference’ with ‘cultural deficiency,’ a stance that typically leads them to stereotype students as having problems to ‘fix’ and may lead to less satisfaction and sense of success in teaching (Gitlin, Buendia, Crosland, & Doumbia,2003).” In addition to lack of experience and training, matters are compounded by a lack of additional communication with ESL teachers.
According to Valdes (2001), the growing acceptance of an inclusion model for meeting the needs of ELLs is due at least due in part to an increased emphasis on accountability and standards that has been further driven by what Nieto (2002) asserts is a long history of “exclusionary schooling”, characterized by programs which are peripheral in nature. Historically, the traditional ESL model placed students in ESL courses where the focus was upon sheltered instruction, and recieved limited access to content-oriented curriculum needed to meet their educational needs or to fulfill graduation requirements. Research however suggests that this approach runs counter to inclusion. Harklau’s (1994) study reveals that the ESL instruction which was provided did not match ESL students’ academic needs in mainstream classrooms and that content-area classrooms were not matched with ESLs’ needs. Harklau (1994) observes that the curriculum of ESL and mainstream classes was disconnected and that the mainstream classes failed to engage ESL students in academic language learning. Echevarria, Vogt and Short (2004) note that programs which are well-implemented, cognitively challenging, not segregated, are key to ESL students’ academic success. Nieto (2002) adds that education should be adapted or modified to meet the needs of ELLs. For an educational model to be inclusive, it must provide equitable access to curriculum, while simultaneously providing for the multi-lingual array of learners i.e. educational methods must make content understandable for students learning English while remaining effective for English-proficient students. Echevarria, Vogt and Short (2004) however, report that high school content area teachers were seldom found to adjust instruction to make curriculum comprehensible for ELL students. Harklau (1994) observes that ELL students had difficulty understanding certain types of teacher talk: “Learners had particular difficulty understanding teacher talk which contained puns or was sarcastic or ironic . . . Learners were also frustrated with teachers who habitually spoke very fast, who used frequent asides, or who were prone to sudden departures from the instructional topic at hand” (Harklau, 1994, p. 249). Youngs (1999) cites that some teacher’s attitudes concerning modification appeared to stem frustration with lack of time, unclear expectations and lack of collaboration with ELL teachers.
Although ELLs spend the bulk of their time in content-area classrooms, little research has been conducted regarding content-area teachers attitudes toward professional development. Of the research that has been conducted, content-area teachers reported that they had limited experience with ESLs and lacked the necessary training in working with ELLs. This is supported by the findings of Youngs and Youngs (2001) study which concludes “few mainstream teachers have been prepared to address the linguistic challenges and cultural differences present in diverse classrooms” (Youngs & Youngs, 2001, p. 101). In an inclusive model, the majority of the student’s time during the school day is spent in mainstream classes, with the addition of ESL classes as needed. Nieto (2002) maintains that teacher’s must possess knowledge of the history of specific cultural groups they are serving in the United States. Additionally adaptation of the curriculum for English language learners is also essential. Nieto maintains that the teacher must develop competence in pedagogical approaches suitable for different cultural groups in United States schools. Researchers have also reported limited institutional supports such as guidance from the school administrators as well as lack of time and resources. Reeves’ (2004) study reports most content-area teachers would like to help ELLs but tended to vary in terms of their expectations for ELLs. Research also suggests considerable frustration among content-area teachers’, concluding that in addition to lack of experience and training, there is also a lack of additional communication with ESL teachers. Youngs and Youngs (2001) maintain that “few mainstream teachers have been prepared to address the linguistic challenges and cultural differences present in diverse classrooms” (p. 101). As cited by Reeves (2004), a study by Clair (1995) documents three teachers’ views of professional development. All three of Clair’s participants (Grades 4, 5, and 10) opted out of voluntary in-service workshops on methods of working with ELLs. Among the reasons given for opting out were as follows: One teacher stated that the workshops presented methods and materials that were inappropriate for her classroom, while the other two subject teachers maintained already well prepared to work with ELLs The two remaining teachers, maintained that as experienced teachers of English-proficient students, they were already well prepared to work with ELLs. One possibly insightful comment by one of the teachers was, “As far as teaching goes, teaching is the same no matter what kind of kids you have” (Clair, 1995, p. 191). Although Clair’s (1995) study, tapped data from only a small group of teachers, it provided a rationale for more extensive studies of educators’ attitudes toward ESL professional development based upon a larger sample.
Research indicates that mainstream teachers often lack knowledge in the area of language acquisition. Nieto (2002) maintains that all practicing teachers need to develop knowledge in the areas of: first and second language acquisition and the socio-cultural and sociopolitical context of education in the United States. The degree to which teachers are informed in this area may indeed shape attitudes in regard to ELL learning rate and capacity. In her study, Reeves’ (2004) survey queried teacher perceptions of the length of time that ESL students needed to acquire English proficiency. Most (71.7%) teachers agreed that “ESL students should be able to acquire English within two years of enrolling in U.S. schools” (p.137). Teacher perceptions that two years is sufficient for full-language proficiency is not supported by research; this misconception may lead teachers to faulty conclusions concerning ELL’s language ability, intelligence, or motivation. Although the average student can develop conversational fluency within two to five years, research has shown that that developing fluency in more technical, academic language can take from four to seven years. This is dependent on a number of factors such as language proficiency level, age and time of arrival at school, level of academic proficiency in the native language, and the degree of support for achieving academic proficiency (Cummins, 1981, 1996; Hakuta, Butler, & Witt, 2000; Thomas & Collier, 1997).
The review of the research literature has revealed several important factors which shape teacher’s attitudes of ELLs: knowledge of the history of specific cultural groups they are serving; competence in pedagogical approaches suitable for different cultural groups; depth of knowledge in the area language acquisition; and the communication with the ESL teacher.
Statement of the Research Problem
Despite the amount of research being conducted in regard to bi-lingual education, there is a lack of information in the educational community regarding teacher attitudes toward including English-language learners in mainstream classrooms. There exists a void in the area of research concerning mainstream teacher perspectives on ELL inclusion. As an array of societal attitudes develop regarding ELLs, so do teacher attitudes.
Of particular interest to this researcher are the experiences of secondary teachers, especially within the Long Island region. Because this area, which despite its cultural diversity has received so little attention from the research community, the design of this study has been driven by the need to help remedy that paucity of research by examining secondary mainstream teacher attitudes and perceptions of ELL inclusion from a regional perspective.
The instrument used was designed to measure both teacher attitudes and perceptions of the inclusion of ELLs. Its four sections correlate to the aforementioned themes previously discussed. The first section -Section A- addressed teacher’s attitudes toward ELL and ESL inclusion. A Likert-scale was used to gauge teachers’ extent of agreement or disagreement with 16 statements presented in relation to that focus area. Section Bmeasured the frequency of various practices and activities among teachers with ELLs in their classrooms, in relation to coursework modification . Section C utilized open-ended questions in concerns which focused upon ELL inclusion. The rationale for this was that open-ended questions allow for more individualized responses, but they are sometimes more difficult to interpret. The Section Dgathered demographic information. I chose to remain faithful to the format of the Reeves study (2004), because unlike the study conducted by Walker, Schafer and Liams (2004), this instrument model utilized multiple statements, rather than a singular item, to gauge teachers’ attitudes. Teachers’ strength of agreement or disagreement with survey items was measured with a 4-point, Likert-type scale. Respondents were to read each statement and check the box that most closely represents their opinions, from 1 (strongly agree), 2 (agree), 3 (disagree), or 4 (strongly disagree). The demographic data included such as subject areas, gender, years of teaching experience, and types of ELL training, native language and second-language proficiency.
The instrument was subjected to a pilot study utilizing a separate group of 12 high school teachers in summer 2009. The rationale for this was that this group of teachers comprised an appropriate pilot study population because they bear similarities to the subject high school teachers in terms of work environments and scope of responsibilities, yet since they were a distinct group, they would not contaminate the ultimate study population. Because the ages and work experiences of pilot study teachers were similar to those of their counterparts, their reaction to the survey was a useful predictor of the survey’s readability and content validity.
Definition of terms:
Bi-lingual: The ability to speak two languages easily and naturally
ESL: English as a second language
ELL: English language learner,
TESOL: teaching English for speakers of other languages
Mainstream: Mainstream in the context of education is a term that refers to classes and/or curricula common to the majority of students.
Validity of the Instrument
The pilot study was used to assess the survey’s readability and as a predictor of content validity. Pilot study participants were asked to complete the following survey.
They then answered questions formulated to give them the opportunity to report their attitudes and perceptions of ELL inclusion accurately and fully.
Analysis of respondents’ comments to the five survey questions was used to reduce the likelihood of any pattern of misunderstanding for any given item and to assess respondents’ understanding of, or ability to respond to, survey items.
Participants and Setting
All subject-area teachers from 3 district high schools within a 25 mile radius of this researcher were asked to participate in the survey by mail. The faculties chosen for participation in the study came from the 3 high schools with the largest population of ESL students during the 2008-2009 school year. This was determined by use of public domain resources (www.city-data.com). School A enrolled 24 LEP (limited-English proficiency) students, School B enrolled 26 LEP students, School C enrolled 16 LEP students . This study included high schools with the largest ESL student populations to access the largest number of teachers who had worked with ESL-inclusive class loads. Participants were selected remotely via mail and/or e-mail during the month of July 2009.
Survey data was analyzed descriptively. Univariate analyses of the survey data and analyses afforded an “examination of the distribution of cases on only one variable at a time” (Babbie,1990, p.247) identified participants’ attitudes and perceptions of ELL inclusion according to the strength of their agreement or disagreement with the survey items.
The analyses included percentages, measures of central tendency, and standard deviations. To perform univariate analyses, a numeric value was assigned to each response in the Likert scale-1 (strongly disagree), 2 (disagree), 3 (agree), and 4 (strongly agree). Analysis of the numeric data will be performed with SPSS statistical software.
In the course of the research study, certain assumptions were made. The following are those which were intrinsic to this study:
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