Who is Eduardo Lujan-Olivas and Why Did My Post Vanish?

img_3374I am going to make the charitable assumption that I have not been hacked and that my attributed quote from another newspaper about ASU pulling a young ‘dreamers’ scholarship caused leading search engines to shut down this post. So I’ll pull references to the article and the quote and see what happens. The story was about Eduardo Lujan-Olivas, a young, ‘undocumented’ student who lost a scholarship right before his classes at Arizona State University were about to start.

As a bilingual teacher, I can’t count how many Eduardos I have taught. These are the undocumented kids who came here as babies or toddlers, who grew up here attending our schools, and who now rest in a scary, legal limbo. Some of these students barely speak Spanish. They never “push 9 for Spanish” and they only go to Spanish-language TV to watch soccer.

Eduardo’s story deserves to be widely shared. The article, ASU pulls scholarship for ‘dreamer’ an hour before class, by

Our Eduardos live all over America. They include hard-working boys and girls who become medical assistants instead of nurses because they lack that critical social security number, as well as boys and girls who sometimes drop out of school because they do not believe they can succeed educationally or professionally without that number. While knowing no other country than the U.S., many kids are growing up without dreams because their parents, friends, family members, and even educators have shut those dreams down.

“You can’t be a nurse/teacher/police officer/etc. because you do not have a social,” they are told.

I am sympathetic to the many Americans who support enforcing our immigration laws. They are watching their country change around them and that change has happened at lightening speed. But I believe we need to create a rational path to citizenship for our Eduardos and their quasi-American counterparts. These kids and young adults only know America. If we sent them “home” in any spiritual sense, we would be sending them to places like Chicago, Philadelphia, Yakima, Laredo, San Jose, Oxnard, Albuquerque, Elgin, Phoenix, Providence, Allentown, Hartford, Newark, and Las Vegas, among countless other big and little burbs.

All politics aside, these children are America’s children. They are nobody else’s children. They value hard work. A number of their parents work two or more jobs to keep their households afloat. America’s undocumented children deserve a chance to contribute fully to the country they have always called home.

Eduhonesty: Eduardo managed to use crowd funding to raise the money for his education. Achievers achieve. But I thought I’d post this today because many changes have been coming at us quickly. If we want to close the borders, I will not protest. But we have left those borders porous for decades in order to get our melons picked and our burgers flipped. The children of the men and women who took advantage of our efforts to keep agricultural and factory costs down should not have to pay the price for policies that almost seem to have been designed to lure their parents across the border.*

We have created a large class of second-class citizens in this country. Now we are threatening to send them to places they don’t know, where sometimes they do not even speak the local language. Interested in a social justice cause? Consider fighting for the dreamers, young men and women who grew up here and who deserve a chance to make this country their home. I’m all for medical assistants, but we will be the better if we let our would-be nurses follow their dreams.

*In my most cynical moments, I fear that maybe those policies were designed for just that purpose — creating a useful group of indentured servants who could never buy their way free.




Computers will never be a cure-all

(Continuing the thread on America’s lack of mathematical prowess today)

A frightening number of teachers and administrators have told me that today students need a different, new kind of education. They need to be taught “retrieval skills” so they can access information.

One administrator said to me, “just give them calculators” when I was discussing the fact that my students could not do a number of basic mathematical operations. Many were arriving in middle school unable to divide double-digit numbers.

American education has gotten lost — lost and lazy.

Can I find the answer to the following problem online?

37 – 12x + 7 – 4x = 115

I can probably find that answer quickly. A kindly math geek will bail me out on some answers site. Or I could text my cousin who loves math and get the answer in just a minute or two.

Do I understand variables any better than I did before? Quite possibly not. With luck, my cousin will explain her reasoning and show me how she got her answer.

As far as the calculators go, I have no problem with students who can divide using their calculators as a shortcut to get division answers. The dividing itself only matters insofar as it represents a mathematical concept, one that will be needed later in many different forms for many disparate calculations. In simple terms, more complex mathematics will be filled with situations where students will need to break down an equation into smaller pieces in order to reorganize those pieces and change their form to get a targeted result.

Eduhonesty: Except for specific computer programs designed to practice and drill math skills, mathematics should be learned offline. Retrieval not only does not serve our students’ mathematical needs, that retrieval can prevent learning — especially when the emphasis in class is placed on grades rather than mastery.

Laminating rosters


This is a quick tip. I suggested a few days back that you create a spreadsheet document with your students in the first column and blank boxes on the page. (To create boxes, print the gridlines.) You then carry these sheets around on a clipboard, marking down student performance during class. That clipboard can be a real motivator for many students.

Here’s a helpful idea: Laminate some of those pages. You may want throwaways as well, but a laminated page has the advantage of being reusable. Find a bright, cheery wax crayon and then just rub the crayon off when you want to use the sheet for other purposes. You can record attendance, classwork and homework, track permission slips and other forms, document payments, etc.

I’ll confess I have not tried this. I just printed and tossed. But when someone suggested the idea to me, it sounded like a winner. Fewer trees are sacrifice with this technique and you don’t risk running out of printed sheets.

A note on dreams and bilingual students

The Dream Act has been floating around and through the media for years now. What exactly is the Dream Act?

The Dream Act is legislation designed to help young people who grew up in the United States , but who are trapped by their immigration status — or lack of an immigration status. Those lucky enough to be born here are U.S. citizens, but students born elsewhere end up condemned to live in a sort of legal limbo, limited by their parents immigration status. The children of the undocumented are also undocumented, even if they started kindergarten here and their high school has a cumulative folder inches thick that documents their academic progress. Currently, these children have no easy path to long-term legal residency, even if they have not seen their “home” country since they were less than a year old. Many of these children barely speak the language of their home country. Most cannot write that “home” language well enough to be considered literate.

Bilingual programs often group these children together. Together, they extinguish each other’s dreams.

“You can’t be a nurse,” one says to another. “You don’t have papers.”

Paperless children give up easily and early for the most part. Teachers can try to keep them on track, but the fact is that undocumented children can’t be nurses. They can’t pursue any employment that requires a background check. Yet 10 – 14 million undocumented persons are thought to be living in this country. Their children go to school. We have created a tremendous pool of children with limited hopes and dreams.

Eduhhonesty: The Dream Act should have been passed a long time ago. We need a law that provides a clear path to citizenship. Personally, I’d favor a combination of military service and college that allows immigrant children to earn citizenship.

We need to foster dreams in our students. Aside from the moral issues, the Dream Act would be extremely practical. These children aren’t going “home.” The vast majority of these children are going to grow old in this country. Currently, some of these undocumented adolescents are classroom management nightmares. They don’t care about school because they quite correctly see that doing their homework and working toward college may have little or no benefit for them. They come to school to socialize. They disrupt their classes and see no reason why they should do otherwise.

I can manage these students with pep talks, reminding them that the future may be brighter than the present. They may receive citizenship. They may be able to go to college. My life would be vastly easier, though, if I could honestly tell the aspiring doctors that they need to study science so they can be ready for medical school. By middle school, these kids know the barriers facing them as they attempt to climb into America’s cognitive elite and middle class. My pep talks are tough sells to an already-cynical audience.

A child who has grown up in the United States should have a shot at the American Dream. To quote the last few lines of the poem on the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Let’s lift the lamp. Let’s create the law we need. By the time these kids have completed twelve years of schooling here, they have become America’s children.

Let’s open the door.

A missive from the Division of English Language Learning, Illinois State Board of Education

My topic is a “new ‘proficiency’ definition for identifying English Learners, notification pursuant to 23 Illinois Administrative Code 228.25(b)(2)” — whatever the heck that is.

The Illinois State Board of Education has modified its version of language proficiency for Illinois students, increasing the proficiency score required to exit bilingual programs. We are up to 5.0 out of 6.0 now, when just four years ago we were at 4.0 The numbers won’t mean much to readers so let me put it this way: It’s much, much harder to exit bilingual programs now than it was. The 4.0 number meant you could coherently produce a paragraph in English that had a number of obvious flaws and still exit. The 5.0 is closer to a demand that you produce a grade-level, almost flawless, English-language paragraph. I strongly suspect that many students who are not bilingual students could not hit 5.0 in my school. We are a poor district scoring at the low end of the state testing pool. I’d love to give the ACCESS language test for exiting bilingual programs to the whole school to test my belief. I’d bet a few hundred dollars that a fair number of “regular” students born in English-speaking families would not pass. In fact, I might risk a month of the mortgage on this one.

Eduhonesty: The question is whether more time in bilingual programs will benefit students. My suspicion is that many students will suffer rather than benefit. There’s a complex issue here. Students who cannot function in regular classes definitely benefit by being placed in bilingual programs. At this point, in Illinois they can go all the way through high school in bilingual programs, which allows them to graduate even if their English remains substandard.

But students who don’t hit the 5.0 target and who could function in regular classes often end up DEPRIVED of English-language learning opportunities. The problem is the Type 29 certification and the lack of bilingual instructors. Due to a shortage of Spanish-speaking bilingual instructors in particular, Illinois has invented a five-year, temporary certification that is essentially a language test. Can you speak and write Spanish? Do you have a college degree? (It’s OK if that degree is from Mexico, Honduras or another country.) Then you can receive the Type 29 certification. It’s how I got started in bilingual education, although I’ve finished the required classes for regular certification now.

Many Type 29 instructors are weak in English, sometimes appallingly so. They end up teaching in Spanish because it’s their native language and the only language in which they are comfortable. A former principal and I had a few good laughs awhile back as he discussed how his fourth grade bilingual teacher used to bring a student to meetings with her to translate for her. In a Spanish-speaking community, a student may live in a Spanish-speaking household, watch TV in Spanish, talk to friends in Spanish, go to Spanish-language restaurants and never use a word of English except in class. That class may be 45 minutes in length, taught by someone who doesn’t quite know English fundamentals.

For the student who can function in a regular English-language classroom, bilingual programs can be a huge loser, a way to slow language-acquisition rather than speed it up. Better quality bilingual teachers might solve that problem, but the truth is that Illinois has a critical shortage of bilingual teachers in some areas and that shortage is not going away — especially since the state keeps increasing the need for bilingual teachers by raising the test score needed to exit bilingual programs, thereby raising the number of students requiring bilingual education.

District bilingual administrators tend to roll over and support new state demands. For one thing, having more students in the bilingual department increases the importance of their positions. For another, these administrators often believe that bilingual programs will benefit students. They are not in the classroom and may be much more acquainted with the theory of bilingual education than the actual practice.

I threw this post into classroom tips because I’d like to reach a few teachers. If you think Juan or Juanita does not need to be in bilingual classes, call home. Parents can still remove their children from bilingual programs even if that child did not reach the technical exit score. The district may resist withdrawal attempts but teachers know what administrators and bureaucrats don’t: They know their students. A student who can manage in a regular classroom should be in a regular classroom. A student who flounders and fails to manage can reenter bilingual programs if necessary, but many students rise to the challenge of a full English-language curriculum. These students will have a vastly better shot at college or the university in the long-run.

Trying to get out of his homework

“This is too hard,” he said, “I don’t know these words.”

Many of the words were from elementary school and he knew at least some of the words on his study guide very well. But the study guide included a long assignment and David’s videogame time was sure to be compromised.

“You do too know a lot of those words,” I said, “and if you don’t, we need to find out what words you need to learn.”

“I can’t do it,” he said. “I’m too dumb.”

“You are not,” I said. “Don’t be silly.”

“I’m dumb,” he insisted. “That’s why I am in a bilingual program.”

I just reiterated that David could and should do his homework.

Eduhonesty: While I am on the topic of bilingual programs, I ought to observe that I’ve heard versions of this conversation before. I recall asking a girl at the start of a school year if she was in the bilingual program.

“I’m not stupid!” she immediately indignantly replied. I mollified her by telling her I had hoped to have her in some of my classes.

David was just trying to get out of his homework, I believe. But one overlooked yet potent aspect of the Illinois bilingual program structure is that the best students do test out, in full view of their classmates who remain in the program. The students who can’t manage to test out often come to see themselves as losers. The best teachers in the world can’t prevent this from happening. Administrators may not like it, but when a student fails an exit test year after year, that student is going to draw some conclusions about what that means.

The Martians from Mars and the Martians from Chicago

States vary widely in the services they provide to bilingual students. Some offer almost no bilingual assistance after the first year. Some, like Illinois, provide intensive, long-term services.

As I start this post, I realize I don’t have time to begin to do my topic justice.

Eduhonesty: Let me just make one observation: I have students who were born in this country who have been in bilingual classes their whole lives. High schools have students who have never exited bilingual programs. With those “lifers” I also have students who arrived here this year from other countries. They are all put together in the same classroom. They should not be.

The newcomers are sometimes literate in their home language. They may even be truly bi- or trilingual. A student may arrive from India who speaks English, French and Hindi, as well as bits and pieces of other Indian dialects. That student has little in common with the girl whose family came from Mexico before she was born, the girl who speaks some Spanish, more English but who can’t effectively write in either language.

Some kids seem to end up in bilingual programs because their name is Gomez, Garcia or Madhubuti. Educational administrators in Illinois would tell you that students are tested to determine whether or not they require bilingual services, but test bias can be huge in these initial screenings. Also, the test tends to be a one-shot experience. If the test-giver or test intimidates the student, the student may underperform due to anxiety and fail to make the needed mark to escape bilingual education.

Regardless, the needs of a newcomer are vastly different than the needs of a lifer. Newcomers frequently leave bilingual programs within a few years of arrival, having mastered the English they require to enter the regular student population. What should be investigated is the reason why all these other students never seem to get to the magic test number needed to exit bilingual programs. The exit test is not that difficult. If we are identifying and channelling a special set of slow learners, we ought to begin to plan a curriculum to meet the needs of this special subset. If we are somehow creating this subset, Illinois bilingual programs need to be overhauled — if not scrapped.

Relative to what standard? A hidden trap for bilingual students…

Here is one challenge that complicates the life of bilingual teachers:

Students arrive from poor countries. If they are older, they may end up entering the work force pretty quickly to help out the family. Work is expected.

Suddenly, these kids are making more than their parents in some cases, more than any relative back in the home country. They may be able to buy that beater of a car and the new cell phone without family aid. Aside from the problem for family dynamics that this newfound prosperity poses, it’s hell on the higher education agenda. Why go to college?

These kids at 16 may be richer than anyone they have ever known. They are sometimes running their households by virtue of the fact that they speak more English than their parents. The idea that they should climb the English-language mountain to pay for college may not make much sense to them. As far as they can tell, they have made it already. They put shiny pictures of their cars on Facebook and take smiling selfies with their new phones.

Eduhonesty: Simply put, we have an agenda to sell the poor on educating their way out of poverty. One reason this agenda does not always work has to do with perceptions. I may know that my students technically are living below the poverty line; this does not mean that my students feel poor. Depending on where they have come from, they may even feel relatively wealthy for the first time in their lives.

Fuzzy research

“The great tragedy of Science – the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.”

~ Thomas H. Huxley (1825 – 1895) (From bob@LakesideAdvisors.com)

Eduhonesty: If we want evidence that education is no science, all we have to do is notice the number of administrative hypotheses that cannot be slain by ugly facts. The hypothesis did not pan out? The teacher must have done the experiment badly. The children did not improve? The instruction must have lacked rigor. The scores are stagnant? The teacher must have failed to scaffold and differentiate for the different levels of learning in the classroom.

If the teacher points out that almost no student in the classroom can actually read the book the district purchased, he or she may get a lecture on the need for increasing rigor.

Nowadays when I hear the word “rigor,” my mind silently tacks on “mortis.” (Latin: rigor “stiffness”, mortis “of death”) One of the recognizable signs of pie-in-the-sky curricula: Death of learning caused by inappropriate new strategies that incorporate irrational expectations, eliminating the pedagogical flexibility needed to help many students learn.

(If your students are newly arrived in the U.S. and are unwilling to converse because they are sensitive to their language deficits, obligatory activities that require verbal sharing aren’t the best — or even a particularly rational — demand.)

Going to Mexico or to Iowa

“Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go.”

Christmas is drawing near and my classes are emptying. All across America, classes are emptying. It’s very common for parents to pull kids out to go back to Mexico for Christmas break and an extra week or two (or even more!) on either side of vacation. It’s possible to catch up the missing math and English but it hardly ever happens. The math especially disappears, never to be recovered.

Eduhonesty: We let them go too easily. We ought to be sending regular letters reminding parents of the academic cost of these long vacations, repeat reminders before plane reservations are made.

“It’s just a few days,” parents will say.

Many students can spare those days, too. The problem is that we don’t always know which students can successfully sacrifice that snippet of education. We also send a message with those extended vacations: You can take extra time off to play when it suits you. This is poor preparation for the adult world, where such efforts often end with demands to clear out your desk and leave the building for good.

For parents: Sometimes there’s no choice and children have to miss school. But a week of missing math can make a kid’s whole year miserable if it’s the wrong week. Lost points from that week can pull a grade down, turning an “A” into a “B” or a “C” into a “D.” In the worst case, a student may end up repeating a course when lost points resulted in an “F” in the endgame. Overall, vacations that take children out of school should be avoided.