Agreed. There is often a huge cultural gap which is not easily bridged by money or time spent in the classroom. Teaching these kids language skills is a valuable and essential pursuit if they are going to be successful as adults; however, it's the intangibles which so often get in the way of their success. Lack of effective communication with parents, as mentioned; lack of consistency in attendance; lack of parental involvement in their children's educational experience; and many, many other such factors. These are all barriers which money alone can't overcome.
I feel that one of the issues is the ability to communicate with the parents. Also, depending on the culture of the ESL families, many of them do not place a high value on education. In our area the boys stay in school after age 17 only if they can be involved in the area vocational program.
Isolation is the biggest one. The ESL classes seem to be shoved off to the side along with Special Education, and the opportunity to interact with the rest of the school population seems pretty limited, as is the opportunity for the general student body to gain exposure and acceptance of those same populations. Seems they should be mixed right into the middle of the other classes so that at least during passing times there is more intermixing.
I have been on an ESL "team" at my school for several years. There have been several problems, some that have been already mentioned. First is the difficulty with communicating with parents. Next is a lack of training. My district, like many throughout the country, has been experiencing very difficult financial times. The district has no money to train teachers in the best practices in dealing with ESL students.
In addition to what is noted by the other editors, there is the problem of being unable to communicate with parents. If you are unable to talk to parents because there are not enough interpreters it is very difficult. We have had cases where the only other people who speak the language are the kids--and that is not a good option in a lot of cases.
I live (and used to be a principal) in a rural district that has a centralized high school with several feeder schools in the middle of the county, with 2 K12 schools that are geographically remote and it is not feasible in the wintertime to bus those kids to the centralized schools.
One of the K12 schools (where I was principal) has the highest percentage of ELL students in the district. Those kids generate a lot of federal funding. However, the district spends all the funds in the centralized high school and middle school, which have a lot of ELL students as well. Each of those schools has three levels of ESL classes with certificated instructors. There are NO ESOL classes at the K12 school.
The district leadership claims that there is an ESOL teacher for the K12 school, but he only comes up one morning a week and does testing and paperwork. He does not do any actual teaching. This is a great source of frustration to him because he sees the desperate need.
When I brought this disparity to the district office's attention, I was told basically to shut up. There is a local nonprofit that provides evening ESL classes for adults and after school tutoring, and my district office told me to use that organization to cover my ESL issues. When I told them that the subgroup we have requires full-time instruction by federal law, I was told that if I kept it up I would be fired.
I have taught in many school districts and they all handle this differently depending on the number of ESOL students they serve. In Florida, I felt that they required too much of regular education teachers...especially the language arts teachers who were required to earn 300 ESL hours to be qualified to teach ESL students in their regular education classes. All other teachers were required to earn 60 hours, and I'm certain that they came into contact with ESL kids just as often and dealt with speaking, writing, and culture issues in their classes.
I guess this is one way that Florida dealt with the dearth of ESL teachers, though, by requiring that all teachers were ESL certified?
In Kentucky, however, we are not required to have extensive training. I have not regretted getting my 300 hours of ESL training, though, since I have many migrant children in my classes and am able to better understand and help them from a cultural point of view as well as from an understanding of what typically troubles them in communicating in a language that is not their native tongue.
I can echo a number of the same points that #2 raises - lack of funding being one of the biggest. In a sense one of the challenges is having the right kind of teachers who are culturally aware enough to understand something of where these students are coming from and who are able to work well with both the students and their families as well as the school.
Lack of teachers, lack of funding (many positions are being cut here or forced to go part time), lack of space and a general increase in need. Because the students are constantly growing with the curriculum, our ESL teacher was teaching 3 preps a semester and often creating new classes each semester - so burn out was inevitable (she left after 4 years).
Our school (and district really) also is suddenly experiencing major discipline issues among ESL students and coping with a lack of home-contact (many of these kids live with extended family or friends), lack of interpreters to make communication effective, and general difficulty in keeping these kids in school.