March 18, 2009
High school students who are newly arrived from another country, sans English skills, present a time crunch dilemma for educators. "High schools have to make a pragmatic choice when it comes to these kids," explains Peter B. Bedford, a history teacher at Cecil D. Hylton School in Woodbridge, Virginia. "Are you going to focus on educating them, or socially integrating them? This school has made the choice to focus on education. The best tools we can give them to function in this society are their diplomas." To that end, Hylton's English language learners attend a "school within a school," where curriculum is intensive, state tests stand preeminent, and interaction with the mainstream student body is practically nonexistent. So while all of Hylton's ELL seniors got their diplomas last year, the majority work in the same low-wage, unskilled labor jobs as their parents because they lack the language and practical skills to apply to community colleges, much less four-year universities. That may sound unproductive, but the opposite--mainstreaming these students--often leaves them discouraged, floundering, and likely to fail the state test or drop out. This is a tough situation that may have no easy solution.
"Where Education and Assimilation Collide," by Ginger Thompson, New York Times, March 15, 2009