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Should non-native English speakers be taught separately?

Lynne Sladky, AP

Lynne Sladky, AP

Los Angeles is now finding itself at the center of a controversy: the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)  has introduced a policy to separate non-native English speakers from native English speakers in elementary school classrooms.

 According to a recent article, the LAUSD is saying that when the students are mixed together, the native English speakers pick up “Spanglish” and not proper English. While the article agrees that the plan “makes sense on paper,” it continues to say that “the execution of such of a plan would make Spanish-speaking students feel like aren’t as intelligent  or valuable because they lack the fluency of ‘mainstream’ students.”

The policy is being protested as many are seeing this plan as a type of segregation.

But what do other educators think?

“Honestly, I feel like there are a lot of variables that go into this other than ELL (English Language Learner) or not ELL,” Amy C., a high school teacher, said. “There are tests students can take to give them a level of proficiency. Based on their levels, they could be placed in higher or lower level classes. If they have NO English skills what-so-ever, that’s a whole other story. There has to be some sort of basis to start from.”

A mother of a kindergartner was quoted in a recent opinion article saying, “Kids learn from their peers, and they’re not going to be able to do that anymore.”

 So what does the research say?

Language acquisition theory regarding young children (ages 0 – 7) suggests that mixing ELLs with native English speaking children supports the ELL,” Jennifer H. said. Jennifer was an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher for about four years before beginning to teach ENL (English as a New Language) at elementary schools. “ In my experience with pre-kinder children whose primary language is Spanish, this theory holds true with some  accommodations and scaffolding. For example, I had about 20 students who were considered ELLs because they had scored between a 1 and 4 on the Las Links language assessment. After a year of being in an integrated classroom with 10 native English speakers, 90 percent of those students increased a level, and in some instances 2 levels. I find that, regardless of age or language, having a balance between native speakers and L2 learners supports the L2 in learning the target language because they are encouraged to use the target language in order to perform desired and engaging tasks with the community as a whole.”

One thing is certain: children in schools who speak a language other than English at home are a growing population. According to one article on the issue, “It’s hard to find enough teachers who are qualified to instruct them, and there’s little consistency in the programs used to educate them.” Teachers cannot teach non-native English speakers in the exact same way that they teach native speakers. There are things that need to be considered.

So maybe a solution would be to make sure that teachers are properly trained rather than segregating the students.

By Being Latino contributor Christina Ortega Phillips

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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