Posted by admin on 3rd May and posted in Uncategorized
*** New Information on this topic: A response to recent claims about the use of CLASS in multilingual classrooms has been released by a coalition of thought leaders/researchers at the top of our field, calling themselves the Campaign for Quality Early Education. Please take a look after you read this ost from 2 years ago to see how the positions coalesce as new information has become available.
This article by Lynn A. Karoly and Gabriella C. Gonzalez in the Spring 2011 issue of the Future of Children journal, provides some solid information about the participation of immigrant children in different types of early care and education. The authors analyze how factors like poverty and parental education influence participation. They conclude with policy recommendations designed to reduce the achievement gap. I appreciate this article, but I have on major concern to raise here.
The authors talk at length about the importance of providing high quality early education to children who face disadvantages and to children in immigrant families. They report, as most of us know, that high quality is frequently measured by the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS-R) or the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS). There’s just one problem. Neither one of those assessments provides accurate information about the quality of early care and education for children who speak different languages than their teachers.
That’s a pretty strong statement. But, think about it. Is it really meaningful to talk about high quality preschool education that only addresses the needs of SOME of the children in each class? The ECERS-R consists of 43 items. Half of them depend on teachers saying things to children or conversing with them. The CLASS tracks teacher child interactions, but if the observer doesn’t understand the language a teacher is using with a child, how can they be sure those interactions are of equal quality?
A wonderful monolingual teacher in a well-equipped English-only classroom might get high scores for the quality of services provided - and those scores would be accurate for the English-speaking children. However, in that same room, English learners who can’t understand what she says will not get the same benefits. If we really want to make changes for children of immigrants, we have to change the way we look at quality in preschool. Quality is only as good as the individual experience of the particular child.
I have no doubt that a well-educated, responsive monolingual teacher with a small enough class size and plenty of learning materials can provide a pretty wonderful experience for all kinds of children – even some who don’t speak her language. But that doesn’t mean that every child in her class will get the same level of quality.
A program that provides great supports for parents, but fails to provide them in the languages they speak, is only high quality for a portion of the families they are supposed to serve. When teachers are really good at having interesting conversations with children about science topics, they will get a good score in science activities, even if some of their students don’t understand a word they’re saying. A center that has trained its teachers to effectively remind children about safety rules on the playground will get a high score for gross motor play, even though there are some children in the class that don’t understand those verbal instructions and are, therefore, completely unprepared for safe outdoor play. And teachers who exhibit the skill for having high quality interactions with children in general may have no interactions with a child that speaks another language.
I’m not asking that well-documented classroom assessments be redesigned to adapt to every language combination found in preschool classrooms throughout the U.S. That would take hundreds of different versions of each assessment. I recommend that we use more caution when reporting scores on these assessments – either for program improvement purposes or for research. Not all quality is equal. Making policy recommendations to improve the way we meet the needs of young dual language learners depends on our ability to show real results about what will work for them. Assumptions based on English only assessments in English only classrooms are getting old pretty quickly. If you are really interested in supporting high quality preschool, you’ll step up and start looking at the experiences of each and every child through additional observation notes and a language chart.
Are there enough books in each language needed in the classroom? Really??? Does the teacher ask open-ended questions to every child in every language they need?
Is professional development provided to staff in the languages they understand most deeply? Are families with different languages welcomed and kept informed? If you have everything you need, including staff, in English and Spanish, what is the quality of early education for that one Korean child in your program?
These questions are increasingly important in light of the encouraging trend for many programs to recruit and employ staff who speak different languages. We still have no plan for how bilingual early childhood teachers should be trained and supported to use their language assets in the classroom. And, as you can see from this discussion, we have no way to assess the quality of early education they are providing in the other language that made them such a desirable candidate. Researchers, funders, policy makers, employers and supervisors need to understand more about the differential experiences of children who may be in the same classroom but are learning quite differently. If we really intend to reduce the achievement gap, we are going to have to go a step further to make sure we know that each and every child is receiving high quality early care and education that meets his or her needs. Anything less is just a numbers game.