¡Si Se Puede Take the Test!

Test takers who are still learning English get a special treat this time of year...

good luckPssst: did you know that there is a connection between how well one speaks English and how well one performs on a test conducted in English? If your answer was *no,* *I don’t understand the question,* or *charter schools,* an exciting leadership opportunity awaits. It’s time for another round of Let’s Take Over a District. This season’s lucky winner: scenic Holyoke, Massachusetts. We’re headed west, young reader, and there’s not a moment to spare.

goodluckpencilsGood luck with that
Shall we begin with a bit of context? Readers who reside outside of the Bay State’s 10,555 square miles (note: includes water) might be surprised to learn that the state consists of more than Kennedys, Bradys, Wahlbergs and Bulfinches. In fact, Massachusetts is home to an astonishing diversity of immigrants who come from all over the world to enjoy our 10 months of winter. Many of these newest residents reside in what are known as *Gateway Cities* like Holyoke. And the newest, newest residents—those young enough to go to school—receive an extra special welcome this time of year: a bilingual dictionary, a sharpened pencil, and a standardized test given in English.

We’re number one (year)
But wait—there’s more, or rather, mas in this case. You see, back in 2002, Massachusetts voters voted to get rid of bilingual education in favor of a speedier system that would require students to learn English in a year because, well, ¿how hard can it really be to learn another language? For school districts like Holyoke, where close to 30% of students are still learning English, this presents something of a challenge, especially since the state, which is now poised to take over the Holyoke schools for persistently low test scores, has found that the *one-year and you’re mainstreamed* policy leads to proficiency for just 20% of English Language Learners. Oh, and that ELL students are three times more likely to drop out of school, which I’m pretty sure is also one of the reasons why the state is now considering serving papers on Paper City.

¿Comprende? Perhaps Holyoke student Carlos Dominicci Feliciano who arrived in the US at the age of 10 and took seven years to learn English en route to becoming a valedictorian can help us understand why the state’s policy doesn’t make any sense. Carlos: take it away.

good luck languagesRhymes with *smarter*
In other words, we have here a classic Catch Veintidós situation in which the same problemo exacerbated by state policy is now being used to justify state intervention to fix the problemo exacerbated by state policy. In other other words, my cabeza hurts. If only there was a silver bullet solution practically guaranteed to make everything better. Wait for it…Wait for it… ¡Charter schools! You see, the same state that is currently *debating* whether or not to *receive* the Holyoke schools has all but wrapped up its debate over what kind of schools are the greatest. While you were out shoveling, members of the *charter harder* crowd officially took the edu-reins. Like new board chair Paul Sagan, who introduced himself at a recent board meeting by declaring that traditional public schools have failed and that it’s time to look for alternatives. What kind of alternatives? Like the Mystic Valley Charter Schoolbeloved by Sagan and Secretary of Education Jim Peyser, which educates no still-learning-English students at all. ¡Ninguno!

question markA fun game to play at home
In fact, it’s now such a poorly kept secret that charter schools in Massachusetts serve a fraction of the still-learning-English student population served by public schools that even this guy is onto it. Here’s a fun game to play at home. Drop by a Gateway City school district like this one, and compare the number of ELL students to those who attend the local charter. Now repeat in city after city until you can stand it no mas. What does our game teach us? That most of the state’s charter schools appear to have figured out an innovative work around to the problem that still-learning-English students tend to score lower on tests given in English: not teaching them. Which raises a pretty serious pregunta: ¿if the state’s preferred solution these days leaves out most of the students that the state has determined are most in need of help, isn’t that kind of a problem?

Note: the state hearing to determine the future of the Holyoke Public Schools will take place on April 27th from 4-7PM,  The War Memorial Hall, 310 Appleton St., Holyoke.

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  1. I should stop being shocked at the short-sighted selfishness of people but I never can. Don’t we realize it IS BTTER FOR ALL OF US to have educated, employed, non-imprisoned citizens? But, no. #becausebootstraps #homeofthecrabpot

  2. Holyoke has had a large community of kids for whom English is a second language since the late ’50’s when Puerto Rican migrant workers came to work the tobacco fields of the Conneticut River valley. Their children, citizens (not illegal immigrants), were instructed in Spanish on the island and were often out of school here until Transitional Bilingual Education was implemented in 1973.

    The Unz initiative to destroy TBE failed to pass in all the cities which had large numbers of kids in need of ESL and was approved by suburbs which had few. I have never understood why this was not considered to be a violation of the civil rights of kids to an appropriate education. Unz was a California millionaire (before inflation made meddling in schools the province of only Billionaires), an early example of education policy based on the belief system of an individual. (See:http://www.languagepolicy.net/archives/unz.htm

    The science behind language acquisition has not changed and it still tells us that kids need about 2-3 years to master the use of a second language to communicate, but 7 years or more to integrate the second language at higher levels of cognition. Facts are such stubborn things.

  3. The charter scam continues in MA because when it comes to elites, their policymakers, and their commissars in administration, ideology trumps reality. They get their promotions and raises, pat themselves on the back, and leave the scene of the crime for greener ($$$) pastures.

  4. The eloquent young man speaking in the video above’s name is Carlos Dominicci Feliciano. I have the privilege of being his English teacher.

  5. Charters in Newark, NJ do not have much interest in educating ELLs either. What a stunning coincidence!

  6. Again, EduShyster… with the opening of a new baseball season… and all our hopes pinned on the home team (public education), you’ve come off the bench in the ninth to pinch hit for ELL students all over the commonwealth… and hit one out of the yard… Oh, yes, Charters are “innovative”- they’ve figured out (as you indicated,) the best way to serve ELL students is to not serve ELL students (What!!!)
    If the truth hurts the charters… oh, well… time they started to BEGIN to live up to their hype and get a team on the field.

  7. Funny thing — students who speak English fluently do tend to do better on tests in English than students who are just learning English. It also seems to be true that students with learning disabilities have more difficulties learning and taking tests that students without learning disabilities. Given their rhetoric, it seems that the state bureaucrats are surprised every year when the scores (including the “student growth percentiles” reflect that). It’s also interesting that schools are supposed to bring the “ELL group” all to proficiency, but students move out of the “ELL group” when they become proficient in English and new students move into the group as they move to this country — I guess it’s just easy to teach someone a completely new language and it’s because of those lazy teachers and administrators who just don’t bother to do it, huh?

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