In early September, the province quietly posted its new English as a Second Language (ESL/ELD) policy on the Ministry of Education website. The province has been promising new funding and policy for ESL since the spring of 2006, and while the new policy addresses some of the concerns raised over the last three years by Ontario’s Auditor General and others, it is difficult to see how it will alleviate many of the ongoing issues in ESL programs.
Many school boards report using a substantial portion of their ESL funding to cover the costs of things like heat, light and building maintenance. The new policy does not protect ESL funds.
Students’ ESL support is reduced, or eliminated altogether, when the funding runs out, as opposed to when the student has sufficient English skills to function academically. The new policy says this should not happen, but does not commit to supplying funding for students who are not ready to be withdrawn from ESL programs.
There is no measurable English-proficiency standard that ESL students should attain before ESL services are discontinued. No standard was set.
The Ministry does not ensure that the ESL/ELD funding targets students most in need of assistance. The policy suggests that boards use the funds where it will be most effective – but there is no specific direction given.
Funding for ESL does not differentiate between students who arrive in Ontario as refugees and have little or no formal education in their first language, and students who have attended school in their home countries. The policy notes that there are different levels of need among ESL/ELD students, but does not provide for differentiated funding.
According to the Ministry of Education, students usually take from five to seven years to become fluent in English. But funding for ESL/ELD support runs out after four years. Funding has not been extended beyond the four years.
There are no minimum ESL/ELD training requirements for regular classroom teachers who have significant number of ESL students. The policy suggests it would be beneficial for new teachers to acquire ESL skills, but does not require it.
Over 600,000 foreign immigrants moved to Ontario between 2001 and 2006, most from non-English-speaking countries and many with school-age children. As a result, the proportion of ESL students in schools increased by 24%. Over the same period, the percentage of elementary schools with ESL teachers declined by 23%.
In schools with higher ESL populations (more than 10 ESL students) the percentage reporting ESL students but no ESL teacher has doubled since 2000.
The new policy does not require school boards to spend ESL money on ESL programs, it does not set standards for an acceptable level of English proficiency and it does not provide funding that recognizes the difference between refugee students needing substantial literacy support and ESL students who have strong literacy skills and only require support to learn the language.
To read the policy go to the Ministry of Education website.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
An ESL policy update from Annie Kidder
Today, Annie Kidder at People for Education posted a comment to a previous post. It's substantial enough that I'm reposting it here.