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English has often been considered a universally common language as it is spoken in most countries around the globe. In many countries, the official as well as the national language is English, which requires that all learners in the nation be taught how to speak the language. However, it has not always been an easy task to ensure that all English language learners (ELL) have equal access to the necessary resources. In this regard, there have been various court cases to discuss the issues affecting them in a bid to find a sustainable solution. Essentially, these lawsuits have been triggered by the reluctance of many states to ensure that English Language Learners and other minority students have access to equitable education opportunities. The issues have also come up as a result of controversies surrounding the continuous use of other languages apart from English, especially in public schools. Subsequently, the court decisions from these cases resulted in many legislative changes that have gradually shaped the contemporary policy climate. Among the issues addressed include segregation, the right to teach native languages, supporting educational and linguistic needs, bilingual education, and so on.
Lau v. Nichols. Equal Education Opportunities
The Lau v. Nichols case can be cited as one of the most essential legal process for the language-learning minorities such as the ELLs. The case was presented by Chinese American students following the institutions’ decision to place them in the mainstream classes despite their lack of proficiency in English in the San Francisco Unified School. The decision, they argued, left them to struggle in learning and eventually, sink or swim depending on one’s aggressiveness. According to the district, there was nothing wrong because these students received equal treatment as their counterparts. The assumption was that when learners are placed in the same learning platform, they can easily adapt depending on one’s individual capability.
However, the judge argued that, “Under these state-imposed standards there is no equality of treatment merely 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…. We know that those who do not understand English are certain to find their classroom experiences wholly incomprehensible and in no way meaningful.” Resultantly, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA), was put in place, explaining that, “No state shall deny educational opportunities to an individual on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin…” (Wright, 2010). Owing to this declaration, students received the universal right to receive bilingual education.
Independent School District v. Salvatierra. Segregation
The issue of segregating ELLs has remained a problem for a long time due to the sensitivity of the issue. On the one hand, it is necessary to separate the ELLs from other students for them to learn efficiently. Contrastingly, the aspect of racial discrimination may be associated with segregation of learners in the United States, under the claims that learning should include equality. In a case of ‘Independent School District v. Salvatierra”, the issue of segregation took center stage as Mexican-American parents in Rio sued the School district. According to the School District, segregation was necessary for the learners to have a conducive environment to learn English.
The case resulted in the court siding with the school district that segregation was beneficial to the learners. However, this decision did not hold as in an Alvarez v. Lemon Grove (1931) case, the judge ruled against segregation. Similarly, Mahoney et al., (2010) argue that ELLs can learn the language faster and more effectively in an English-Only learning environment. A similar case of Brown v. Board of Education made bilingual education more feasible for ELLs by ruling that states must provide equal opportunities for education although the case focused only on the segregation of African Americans.
The 4-Hr ELD Block
Due to the controversial issues surrounding segregation, there was a need to find a lasting solution that would favor all parties involved. Initially, there was a case of Flores v. Arizona in 2013, for the state to allocate adequate funding for ELLs in Arizona, which remained unsolved at the time (Flores v. Arizona, 2013). Even so, a task force was formed and charged with the responsibility to develop a reliable model. Resultantly, they came up with the 4-Hr ELD Block model, which requires that ELLs have a minimum of four hours a day during their first year as ELLs. The approach features prolonged daily grouping and segregation of students based on their language proficiency (Sutton, Cornelius & McDonald-Gordon, 2012). This means that the better one becomes in the language being learned, the quicker they move to the next level, provided they spend the stipulated time period each day.
Even so, the model was not the most popular among most teachers and other stakeholders who believed that it was less effective in making the learners more proficient. They argued that excessive restriction in Arizona schools was detrimental to the children as it also adversely impacted on their emotional and social development (Jimenez-Silva, Gomez & Cisneros, 2014). According to Lillie et al., (2010) the model interferes with the ability of most students to focus on other core subjects such as math, sciences, and so on, due to the four hours spent learning English.
Essentially, the process of learning a second language is divided into various stages, all of which require the learner to grow gradually. The stages include preproduction, where the student has minimal comprehension, thus remains silent most of the time. The second stage is early production, where the student starts producing short speeches, followed by the speech emergence stage where the overall comprehension is high. Ultimately, the intermediate fluency and advanced fluency stages are the final levels where the student has now acquired a significant level of fluency. Arguably, when these students miss out on other important subjects during the said stages, they are unable to perform as well as their English-proficient counterparts, owing to the said deprivation. In the Additionally, the model also affects the normal teacher preparation strategies, since most teachers only focus on ways of making the students perform well, instead of gaining the necessary proficiency. This may not be sustainable over a long period because the teacher has a moral and professional duty to teach and ensure that students can speak the language fluently.
Meyers v. Nebraska (1923). Teaching Native Languages to Children
Many communities would prefer that their children learn their native languages before or alongside foreign ones. Various cases have tackled the aspect of language-minority students taking private language-schooling. The Meyers v. Nebraska (1923) case explains that the fourteenth amendment offers protection for language minorities (Wright, 2010). In the 1900s, Germans valued the need to teach their children the native language that they run their own private schools where instruction happened both in English and German. However, the Siman Act was passed in 1919, making it illegal for any public or private learning institution to teach foreign languages to children below the eighth grade.
Even so, the state court instructed that the said act did not restrict the schools from teaching German outside the official school hours.The issue led to the pushing of the Meyers v. Nebraska (1923) case to the Supreme Court, which ruled against the earlier legislation. The Supreme Court decided that even though the state governments can regulate the instructional language in schools, the states should not pass any laws that may hinder communities from offering private language classes outside school hours. In this light, the Supreme court provided communities with a chance to teach their learners the native languages as well as English in an equitable and transparent manner.
In a similar case of Farrington v. Tokushige in 1927, the court gave more protection for community language teaching programs offered after school hours. This was after the local education authorities tried to put restrictions on the teaching of such foreign languages as Japanese and Chinese. Even so, the legislations tend to favor ELLs as they are often in the forefront when it comes to foreign language instruction. Looking at the details of this case, it is evident that in most circumstances, the court tends to come to the rescue of learners when the local educational authorities disregard them. Despite the fact that the learners may not use school hours to gain the relevant knowledge, they can still extend their classes to after-school time since the courts have allowed it.
In summary, English Language Learning is a critical subject in the education sector due to the many intricacies that come with its implementation. The concept has attracted many legal issues such as law suits and court cases, most of which involve the rights of ELLs to get equitable learning opportunities. Among the main cases that have taken place regarding the same issue include Lau v. Nichols on Equal Education Opportunities, Independent School District v. Salvatierra on Segregation as well as the Flores v. Arizona among others. The issue of segregation seems to take center stage with most cases arguing that it is detrimental to ELLs as they require to learn in an equitable environment just like their proficient counterparts. Similarly, the aspect of teaching children their native languages alongside English and other foreign languages also presents itself. The argument is that communities need to teach their children in their native languages for reasons such as nurturing and fostering better linguistic skills. Observably, all the cases boil down to the need to offer equitable learning opportunities for English Language learners, and others in the same line of instruction.
Academic Leadership Journal. (2019). Academic Leadership - Online Journal. https://www.academicleadership.org/1224/esl-program-models-and-court-cases-an-overview-for-administrators/Flores v.Arizona, No. 92-CV-596-TUC-RCC (2013).
Lillie, K. E., Markos, A., Estrella, A., Nguyen, T., Trifiro, A., Arias, B., & Wiley, T. G. (2010). Policy in practice: The implementation of structured English immersion in Arizona. Los Angeles, CA: Civil Rights Project.
Mahoney, K., MacSwan, J., Haladyna, T., & García, D. (2010). Castañeda’s third prong: Evaluating the achievement of Arizona’s English learners under restrictive language policy. In P. Gándara & M. Hopkins (Eds.), Forbidden languages: English learners and restrictive language policies (pp. 50–64). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Jimenez-Silva, M., Gomez, L., & Cisneros, J. (2014). Examining Arizona’s policy response post Flores v. Arizona in educating K–12 English language learners. Journal of Latinos and Education, 13(3), 181-195.
Sutton, L. C., Cornelius, L., & McDonald-Gordon, R. (2012). English language learners and judicial oversight: Progeny of Castaneda. Educational Considerations, 39(2), 5.
Wright, W. E. (2010). Landmark court rulings regarding English language learners. Colorín Colorado.
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