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Missing the point

Last week, I wrote about some Massachusetts teachers who were suing to get their jobs back after repeatedly failing an English proficiency test. This Sunday, in an astonishing development, the Boston Globe found and interviewed three teachers who are watching their case with great interest -- their own jobs are on the line over that law, too.

I read the sob stories, and found myself feeling sympathetic for the teachers. Regardless, I think the law is a good one, and should stand.

One teacher's account leaped out to me. Raineldo Borrero teaches 2nd-graders in Spanish, and has done so as a teacher's aide and substitute for years. She accepted a full-time job, but repeatedly failed the English proficiency exam, and now her job has been posted as open.

I'm sure Ms. Borrero is a fine teacher and she sounds like an admirable human being, but the law was enacted for very good reasons. And if she cannot pass the test, she has my sympathies.

But she proves my point with a single quote, one the Globe thought so important that they used it as both the title and as the closing line:

"If you're doubting me as a teacher, come here every day."

Um... that's the whole point of the test, Ms. Borrero. We simply don't have the time or resources to supervise every teacher every day. That's why we have the tests -- they are to make certain the teachers are fit to teach without daily supervision and micromanagement. And there has to be some sort of standard. Massachusetts has decided that this test on English proficiency will be a part of that standard, and the line has to be drawn somewhere.

Ms. Borrero, I am sorry you didn't pass, and found it difficult to take it. But we can't just carve out exceptions for everyone, or we shouldn't bother having any standards at all.

(Note to astigafa: I spent a total of 12 minutes on the above piece, starting with the title and ending with the final period, not counting this note but including several referrals back to the source article. Feel free to spend as much time as you like picking it apart.)

Comments (17)

I have to agree.Al... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

I have to agree.

Also, given that I teach reading fluency to children who are at risk in second grade, I recognize that it is very important for teachers to be fluent in English. English is extremely difficult to learn to read and write, and an important component of learning to read fluently is to hear fluent reading modeled by teachers. I am not sure this is the model the at risk children in her class will need.

Perhaps she should take some classes and work on her own fluency in the meantime.

Oh, and if astifaga wants to pick your post apart, I would just comment that you aren't a teacher.

I think part of the problem... (Below threshold)

I think part of the problem may be that the law is not targetted enough.

For example, I think it is far more important that a foreign language teacher be fluent in the language he teaches than in English. At the basic level he needs to be able to communicate in English, but not all that well. At the advanced level even inability to speak English at all is not a major issue. So I sympathize with Ms. Borrero.

Math is similar - I was taught many match classes in college by teachers who could barely speak English. Not a problem as long as they could talk about math in English.

On the other hand, English teachers and teachers for younger children who are expected to deal with multiple subjects and teach basic communication skills obviously need to be fluent in English.

Oh, come on now. English c... (Below threshold)

Oh, come on now. English can't be that hard to learn, hundreds of thousands of children have learned to speak it reasonably fluently by age 6, and with some penmanship issues can write it to some degree of fluency by age 7.

Why can't a teacher?

Students in many foreign countries are required to learn english, why shouldn't our teachers?

Matt,Some of my be... (Below threshold)


Some of my best teachers were immigrants. Some of them still had pretty thick accents poor English skills. As long as we could understand them by the second class I didn't care.

You certainly get a different perspective on European history when you're taught by a Hungarian immigrant and you certainly get a better French class when you're taught by a native speaker.

Also, for some subjects (ie. shop) do we care if the teacher is academically capable?

Now I bring two prospective... (Below threshold)

Now I bring two prospectives to this response, I trust JT with my life and I respect his opinions that he has because they are based on research. Even dissagreeing doesn't reduce my respect for him.

2nd I have been involved with education for about 23 years and I understand the real issue here is standardization. To regulate standards by which all teachers can be accountable fordue to how education has gone from a legal right to a political lever. As a teacher, there was one person who could control our destiny professionally and could be either the finest friend or the greatest enemy. I speak of that engima. the PARENT. Virtualy every parent wants their kid to have the best education. ( yet don't make the kid smarter then the parent ( a weird paradox since every generation should gain more knowledge then the former)

Now because we all seem to want our kids learning from the best, we test for the best, one test being english, another being math, There are competence tests given here in MD and other states that one must pass in order to teach elementary school and subject specific tests for middle and high school. New teachers must take this to teach.

When I was offered a job to teach english in japan, I knew nothing of the language, ironicly that wasn't an issue since english was actually more understood there then I suspected. As such, learning the native language wasn't essential. Here in America, we are a bit more prejudical in language. English is required.

Saddly those of us who went through the basics in school and passed and never use it again or use it baddly often make the most noise about it . Those who make noise get media attention, media draws politicians who make more noise. and the result are changes imposed by a few that affect the many

Is that Democratic?

Why are we teaching 2nd gra... (Below threshold)
Bob Jones:

Why are we teaching 2nd grade in Spanish? I lived abroad for 5 years and my son spoke only German when we moved back to the states so he could go to 1st grade. We sent him to a tutor during the summer before school started. He did not want to speak any German any more. He learned English just fine and quickly too. He's an honor student now in the 5th grade.

Why are we teaching 2nd grade in Spanish here in the United States? They don't teach 2nd Grade in English in Germany and I'm sure they don't do it in Mexico either.

It just perpetuates 2nd class people and it's plain stupid.

English can't be that h... (Below threshold)
just me:

English can't be that hard to learn, hundreds of thousands of children have learned to speak it reasonably fluently by age 6, and with some penmanship issues can write it to some degree of fluency by age 7

Actually English is quite difficult to learn-especially to learn to speak, read and write it fluently. English is one of those languages that has an exception to every rule, and this makes it especially difficult to read and write it correctly.

Now given that just mastering the rules is difficult, imagine having a teach who isn't fluent in the language having to impart things like CVC and CVCE words, vowel teams and that just covers the phonics, much less the grammar.

We have a substitute teacher that is from Quebec. She is certified to teach in French at the elementary level-French being her native language, but she often struggles with the literacy lessons, because she doesn't fully grasp all the nuances of the phonics and grammar rules. I strongly suspect she would pass a fluency test for English, but even she struggles with some concepts.

I do agree that teaching at the college level, or when instructing students in the teacher's native tongue English fluency is less important. For one thing, by the time a person gets to college, they need information on the subject at hand, not instruction on grammar, phonics, or sentence construction-a college student should be able to sort through the language barrier and still master the subject.

Oh yeah,I moved to... (Below threshold)
Bob Jones:

Oh yeah,

I moved to another country. I learned the language so I could get my drivers license in German and pay German taxes. No forms in English, no nothing in English. I have no sympathy for people who move to another country and won't learn the language. If I can do it as an adult, anyone can.

No sympathy what so ever.

formerteacherSurel... (Below threshold)


Surely your comment (above) must be a belated April fool's joke:

Microsoft Word finds these spelling, capitalization and grammar errors:

accountable fordue to
the parent (The Parent)
yet don't... (Yet don't...)
english (English) [multiple instances]
japan (Japan) [sigh...]
result are (result is)

as well as numerous punctuation errors.

Frequently, the sentence construction is so far from conversational as to be unintelligible.

Yeah, this gotta' be a joke!

I looked at the test sample... (Below threshold)

I looked at the test samples.

I think any native English speaker who is qualified to teach an academic subject should be laughed out of school if they can't pass.

But I've got no problem with a shop teacher, or even an immigrant history teacher, who can't pass them.

Hmmm.When... (Below threshold)


When I was offered a job to teach english in japan, I knew nothing of the language, ironicly that wasn't an issue since english was actually more understood there then I suspected. As such, learning the native language wasn't essential. Here in America, we are a bit more prejudical in language. English is required.

English taught in Japan is less about proper grammar and more about *context*. Much of common English as used in America is colloquial and depends heavily on context. This is because English speakers often simply create words that have no basis or relevance to existing words.

An example in French:
le courrier électronique

An example in English:

The first actually uses existing words to describe something new, so it's possible to puzzle things out. But in English many of the words used on a daily basis have no relation to anything else or, if they do, it's to another word in a completely different language.

This is why they didn't care if you spoke Japanese because wanted you to immerse the students in colloquial English. And the reason why you didn't need to know Japanese is because those students were the ones that spent the time to learn English sufficiently to be included in that class.

And it doesn't hurt that a lot of Japanese musicians use English words and phrases to accent specific portions of their songs. And that a lot of advertisements use, or amusingly mis-use, English words and phrases.

*shrug* an FYI for anyone who didn't know.

hepta, it was over the top,... (Below threshold)

hepta, it was over the top, wunnit. I was chuckling from "prospectives" on.

What will the effect on the... (Below threshold)

What will the effect on the children be when they see that teachers can argue that tests are unfair to keep their jobs? What example does that set for them? Kids have a hard enough time understanding why they need to learn concepts that they don't realize they will need later in life...at least I did. This whole story is disturbing.

Also, the few immigrant teachers I had in college courses weren't good teachers because of their ability to relate foreign subjects...like European history. The ones I had were good teachers because you never heard the equality, no competition BS from them. You worked hard for them and if you didn't learn, you didn't pass.

Another also, regarding formerteacher: Proficiency in english in no ways means an automatic proficiency in typing. Or that just because last week was spring break for most teachers I know that they had the time to edit their own post.

I recently served as a jure... (Below threshold)

I recently served as a jurer on an age discrimination suit. An older women (early fifties) applied for a second grade teaching position that was eventually filled by a younger woman. She said she didn't get the job because of age discrimination. When both women were put on the stand it was obvious that the older woman was not hired because she didn't have a handle on the "King's English", so to speak. There was only one other jurer besides myself that had any education beyond a high school diploma. When we pointed out her lack of proper grammar usage, the other jurers didn't feel it was important to be able to use correct grammar in elementary school situations. We had a devil of a time getting our point across. (And how does one do this without coming across as a complete snob?)

Maybe our standards of education are set too low in this country these days and maybe it is because our teachers are not qualified. Some schools are so desperate for teachers, they have to take whoever they can get. You get what you pay for.

Some schools are s... (Below threshold)
Some schools are so desperate for teachers, they have to take whoever they can get. You get what you pay for.

The one isn't directly related to the other. The teachers' unions have been flacking "class size reduction" for years, which with increasing enrollments means hiring more teachers. However, school districts' budgets are dependent on the tax base, which is far from infinite.

Studies have shown that smaller class sizes are about as relevant to quality of education as the color of a horse's tail is to the temperature of groundwater.

Ans as for "you get what you pay for," there is very little correlation between what is spent on education and the quality of that education. We've been increasing public education budgets for decades and we're still arguing over how to measure the result -- because there's been no measure found that can reliably correlate spending to quality, and that's the holy grail the educrats are constantly seeking.

Uh, just to pick a nit:<br ... (Below threshold)

Uh, just to pick a nit:

Raineldo Borrero teaches 2nd-graders in Spanish...

I expect that Ms. Borrero would be offended that you spelled her first name R-a-i-n-e-l-d-o, unless she is transgendered.

McGeheeYou get what ... (Below threshold)

You get what you pay for. Sure one is related to the other. The school district I live in has the highest pay scale of any other district in the state. When a job becomes available, there are numerous applicants. The smaller school district where the teacher was suing for age discrimination had three applicants for the second grade teaching position. Since the pay is less in that school district, you have a smaller pool of applicants to choose from. Where the pay is higher you have more applicants and a larger pool to choose from with a better chance of getting a better teacher. Therefore, you get what you pay for.






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