Michael Guerrero

MICHAEL GUERRERO

“Ok. Let’s go ahead and give us your name.”

“My name’s Michael Guerrero and I’m with the University of Texas at Austin (pause) presently.”

“Ok. In what way is the bilingual teachers in the United States unprepared to meet the needs of their language minority students?”

“Well, I think that um teachers, bilingual education teachers in particular, are are not um as adequately prepared uh to enter the classroom and to fulfill their their obligations. Um not so much um uh I I guess I I I view it a little bit uh in this way in that it’s not so much the teachers um lack but rather it’s it’s really their lack is a reflection of what the educational info structure lacks in general. Let me elaborate. Uh what I mean is that if we looked at what university practices are in terms of how they prepare teachers for bilingual education uh I think we could easily see that the unpreparedness of the teachers is really linked to the gaps that exist in teacher training programs, K? So I see the issue is we can I can answer uh that particular question but I approach it from the lacks the teachers are a reflection of the lack (pause) the lacks of the teacher training institutions. What would those be? Um, well, um I think that um (pause) one of the most critical lacks or deficiencies I rr…really don’t want to use that word uh one of the areas that we’re working in in teacher training is trying to create um (pause) a program whereby that that person that teacher will have access to the most current methods research theory uh maybe not explicitly but woven into their training whereby they will be prepared to teach math, science, reading and language arts to teach across the curriculum in a way that is um, (laughs) effective or um best meets the needs. And the prob…of the of the kids…and the problem is that even at the university level you know we are we are not in tune with the current research. It’s it’s very hard to to keep abreast. You you you make uh efforts to uh improve your course work and here comes more research. Here comes more findings. And so um i…it my sense is just…that…geez it’s everyth…it’s everything from understanding the transformations that the kid goes through in terms of their identity, in terms of assimilation and acculturation. It’s instructional. It’s related to assessment. It’s related to working as a team. It’s… and the reason I think that that the situation exists is because um (pause) we think if we think about this for a moment we produce teachers for mainstream education, for the regular classroom as uh…yuh it’s a natural part of what takes place within our educational info structure. So in other words our future teacher pool for mainstream education are they they begin in kinder and they work through elementary and then through middle school and then through high school and and and to the university, right? Uh that isn’t the case with bilingual education teachers. The case of bilingual education teachers is they go through a mainstream K-12 educational experience. They come to the university. We try to make an effort to prepare them for a bilingual setting, but the the problem is that they themselves have a fairly limited conception or experience of what bilingual education should really be because they were primar..mm..many of them were not products of bilingual education. So you know in terms of uh you know I I guess its just a general way of saying that their their their basic need is to really have a deep-seated understanding of what bilingual education should look like and how it should function. And because they haven’t had that experience on a on a…o over their lifetime well, it’s it’s a big leap to make. And then you get school administrators who are in the same situation and principals and counselors adnauseam uh, it puts a tremendous uh stress I think on everyone and and and makes it very difficult for us to say, “Yes! We have you know reached that point where we can say we are clearly preparing bilingual education teachers the way we ought to be.’ ”

“K. What content in a Spanish reading methods course seems most central to bilingual teachers supporting language minority students’ development?”

“Y…uh…I’ll uh give you uh a specific example and in this case related to the teaching of reading in Spanish, right? Um, (pause) currently and and not just currently but at at my university and at other universities that I’m familiar with it’s it’s unusual ok that the perspective bilingual education teacher receive a reading methods course that’s geared specifically for say uh teaching the English language learner reading uh or in particular teaching uh the English language learner who speaks Spanish uh how to move them into Spanish literacy. We only recently began to offer such a course at our university. Uh previously and like in many other places still at this point in time, the pre-service teacher takes a reading methods course. The reading methods course is designed for teaching kids to read in English, k? Uh, in that course I see the need for uh the teacher having access to uh relevant research, relevant theory and relevant practice, k? So what what uh what I’m what I in what we have included in our pr…uh pr in this course in this particular course as an example is a survey of the different Spanish reading approaches that we know exist. There are what we call synthetic approaches to teaching reading in Spanish or analytic approaches to teaching reading in Spanish. And it behooves us to prepare the teachers for those you know to expose them to those methods because once they leave us and they go into the schools these are the kinds of approaches that they’re going to see. So it it just makes sense that they be prepared um (pause) for that uh as well as whole language. We we include that. We talk about balanced literacy. But what is bal what does a balanced literacy approach look like when you’re working with English language learners? Well we’re not real sure yet. It’s it’s new for us and so we’re trying to work through that. Uh whole language would be a little more straightforward. Other issues that um we’re still in my opinion and the field it isn’t just unique to the university where I am but in the field um (pause) there’s a huge issue surrounding when and how to transition the child from Spanish reading into English reading. You know we’ve been at this for over thirty years nearly and and it’s interesting that we really have no nice solid research based uh data from which we can draw to to develop that component of our of our training programs so that our teachers as they enter the classroom and face this reality have some orientation to the process. Uh and and similarly uh once they leave the classroom uh once they leave the bilingual classroom uh we feel that it’s very important for all of our teachers monolingual bilingual it doesn’t matter because many of our monolingual teachers will in turn receive these uh English language learners who no longer need or or or yeah no longer need uh the bilingual education services. They too need to be uh (pause) exposed to what their role should be and how to approach it and what to expect and in in other words just to be in some sense uh prepared for ok the child has been transitioned out of the bilingual program but it isn’t it isn’t like um (pause) it doesn’t matter anymore. Clearly it matters. It does. And so that’s that’s just one example of uh how our teacher training programs are still struggling with some important issues. And (clears throat) yes it may reflect on the teachers and their abilities but it’s really a reflection of of what we are able to do to prepare them. I don’t like to put the onus on the teachers. They come to us for orientation. They come to us for expertise. And we’re and we’re struggling to provide it.”

“What second language acquisition research and theory is most important for all teachers to understand in supporting language minority students’ linguistic (clinks in background) and academic development?”

“(Clears throat) You know I think that uh one of the most important conceptual frameworks regarding um (pause) uh..um trying to grasp a global understanding of the second language ac..acquisition process are are models that uh alert the teacher to the fact that there are societal variables that can intervene in the second language acquisition process. Societal variables like uh language policies. Uh like um proposition 227 in California, proposition 203 in Arizona and I’m sure more propositions like them that are gonna be popping up around the country if Ron Unns has his way. Um (pause) so there are clearly societal factors that influence second language acquisition. And then at another level we have operating uh individual student factors. They come to us at different ages, they come to us from all different parts of the globe, uh they come to us with different levels of motivation, different attitudes, different aptitudes, different learning styles. Uh there are a whole host of individual factors that again enter into this equation of second language acquisition. And so the teacher needs to be aware that there will be societal forces at play sometimes beyond their control most often beyond their control. There will be individual factors involved and then there will also be uh (pause) th..th..there there’s also the dimension of the the the learning environments themselves in which second language acquisition takes place. And and basically there are there are two. Uh there’s the formal learning context and there’s the informal learning context. The formal having to do with the affects and the factors that are at work during the second language acquisition process uh within the school and within the program and within the classroom right down to the level of uh the student sitting at a table or at his or her desk and his or her relationship to the other students in the classroom. How the classroom is organized, um w..is translation used, how often is how often are the two languages used and for what purposes? So my my my main point is that teachers need to understand that in terms of a theory of second language acquisition that i..it’s it’s it’s quite it’s quite complex. It isn’t like um i..it it it it’s at the individual level it’s at the classroom level. There are factors at each of those levels. At the school, at the community, at the family, at and then at the societal level and they’re all they’re all working uh and exerting their their force uh and that’s why it makes it so very difficult to predict how long it’ll take a child to acquire academic English because th..there are simply so many variables at play.”

“What is the subtractive orientation of the United States’ society towards bilingualism?”

“(Clears throat) I’m going to elaborate just for a moment um a little bit more on this societal dimension of of that that I was uh that I claim influences the process of second language acquisition. Um and it it’s linked to this notion of additive versus subtractive bilingualism. And of course we should we should visualize it and treat it as as a continuum. It’s not like an either-or kind of a situation you know within a uh…you know and and in the context of the United States if we think about the United States we you know we have to ask ourselves a difficult question: just just how much do we value language di..diversity? How much do we value bilingualism? Um and in my assessment and not o..strictly only in my assessment but in the reading that I have done and the thinking that I have done on the matter uh, it’s clear that other researchers agree, I’m not alone on this. The U.S. in general can be characterized as more towards the subtractive end of the continuum. And what that means basically is that we embrace bilingualism at the level of the individual. Ok that’s fine if if a person wants to learn French or Chinese and he or she goes about it on their own as an individual effort then that’s fine. That’s acceptable within our within our society. But where where we seem to get caught up is when we start thinking in terms of collective bilingualism um in the se..in in the sense of entire communities and whether or not they should function in two languages. And clearly we prefer and value that that they don’t. And we create policies to ensure that that this doesn’t take place. The the the predominance of the transitional bilingual education early exit model is is is a classic, clear piece of evidence of our orientation towards bilingualism. Um we prefer that the children enter our school system. We use the language for limited their native language for uh a limited number of years and we expect them to eventually strictly operate only in English. Uh and that’s our orientation and and and it is subtractive because generally the children end up uh loosing their native language and um and and cr..you know becoming a person that they might not become had they had more of an additive experience. (Pause)Um (long pause) (clears throat)”

“What key educational practices and policies in the United States have an impact on the academic proficiency of Spanish bilingual teachers?”

“(Deep breath) One of the uh again in my estimation one of the uh driving forces behind uh our subtractive orientation to bilingualism in the United States is the fact that (pause) when (pause) when we establish the kinds of standards um that the bilingual education teacher needs to meet in terms of their academic Spanish language proficiency. It’s clear to see that that that that standard is is is very very low, ok? Um, now..uh the the question is though w..why is the standard so low? Well it it couldn’t be otherwise because when you think about it our bilingual education teachers are a product of an English speaking school system, ok? So the basic barrier for our teachers to achieving native-like and teacher-like and professional-like uhhh proficiency in academic Spanish is the very school system itself in that they had very few opportunities through their throughout their K-12 experience to learn the math register the science register all of the academic registers that that can be identified within within the school setting. So the major obstacle to teacher acquiring uh a deep-seeded academic Spanish language proficiency or Vietnamese proficiency or whatever non-English language proficiency is basically the educational info structure itself because they never had access to the kinds of opportunities that the native English speaker has who later chooses to go into teacher education and who has those twelve plus years to draw on and and then they they come to us for another four years at the university. They refine their academic proficiencies. We are not in that situation at the university. What do we do? We we require a few Spanish courses. We say, “That’s fine you passed the courses.” We may even have a test that we want them to take like uh…there are approximately seventeen states uh in the country that uh require uh that the teacher take and pass some type of Spanish language proficiency test. But yet as I started out saying that that standard is very low, k? In Texas for example there is no reading and writing requirement. Why is there no reading and writing requirement? Because we’re subtractively oriented. Because bilingual education to us is early exit transitional bilingual education. So those are the that is the primary the the problem here then is simply the educational info structure in itself.”

“What is teacher-like proficiency in a second language?”

“(Pause) Teacher-like proficiency in a second language is that teacher being able to freely express themselves fluently. To express their thoughts. To be able to share all the knowledge that they have about mathematics. To be able to enter into a rich discussion about math concepts and how they relate to everyday life. Uh about reading a a very rich piece of children’s literature and being able to go well beyond just the literal interpretation of what the text shares. Um (pause) basically it’s being able to operate at a level in the language that will allow the child to move forward developmentally. You you the teacher must be a much better model of the language than the child is. Sometimes that’s not the case in bilingual education programs. Sometimes the children speak are more proficient in the in the non-English language than the teachers are. And what that means basically is that they have deep-seeded experiences with the language. Their experiences are created a..and a..a..uh their their language and their experiences are woven together. And so when they talk about a particular experience their text is very rich. It’s rich in detail, it’s rich in terms of it’s content, it’s rich in terms of it’s organization. Uh so when I think of a teacher being academically proficient in a non-English language it’s it’s basically being as we as..w..as as as proficient as we believe a native English speaking teacher is. That that’s the benchmark. It shouldn’t be any lower. And and and it shouldn’t well it..c it would be great if it could be higher but at a minimum you know it should be on par with what that native English speaker is able to do linguistically in the classroom. It should be on par. There should be there should be no other standard. That should be the standard.”

(Long pause) (Clinks)

“Ok. What are the problems of measures designed to gauge the proficiency of bilingual education teachers?”

“(Clears throat) I’ve had the opportunity to look at uh several of the tests that we use um to basically certify or endorse bilingual education teachers and and their ability to teach in the non-English language and par..and particularly Spanish in my case. Um and what I’ve noticed about a lot of these tests is that very few uh in fact as far as I can tell uh only two of the seventeen tests that are presently being used in the country have been um let’s say the object of research by an impartial reviewer. Um the Arizona exam has been looked at through uh uh a person’s dissertation and and myself my dissertation uh allowed me to take a good close look at the Spanish language proficiency test that was used in New Mexico for a number of years. But there are several problems. One is that um most of them are not contextualized to the school setting. Hence there are no parts or aspects of the test that for example try to elicit the teachers’ ability to explain a mathematical concept or to explain a science concept, ok? So contextually they are they are far removed from the school context generally speaking. Um there are psychometric issues. Um there’s very poor maintenance of the tests in terms of making sure that they’re reliable and going back and examining how the you know if if the tests test continues to be reliable. If it still uh has some validity. You know there need to be checks periodically to make sure that the test is still fulfilling the purpose that it was intended to fulfill. Um and what is particularly troublesome to me is also that we have a problem right? If all we have are transitional bilingual education programs right tho..that’s the model that predominates in the U.S. then that means that when we go out to visit classrooms to see how Spanish is being used instructually in the classroom so that we can develop the framework for a test what we get is p..probably the most impoverished um uh exemplar of academic Spanish that’s possible ok? And again I’m not putting the onus on the teacher k? This we we get from the teacher what we expect from them. If we expect a little from them then that’s what we’re going to get. And in my estimation when it comes to academic Spanish language proficiency we expect very little of them ok? And this is reflected in our tests because the test the test developers go out they do observations they see how Spanish might be used. Hopefully they do that much in the test development process. And so what do they see? They see very limited uses of the language not very elaborate uses of the language. And so they take that information and they embed it into their tests and what do we have? Well basically what we end up with is something that a test that reflects a very low standard very limited range of language skills as I said a moment ago tied to uh not necessarily tied to the context of a bilingual education setting. So we have lots of problems with those tests in my estimation. A lot of research remains to be done. We’ve never taken the Arizona exam and and given it to people in California and given the test in California to people in Arizona to people in Texas to try and do some concurring validity studies. Why should academic language proficiency in Spanish be any different just because you cross a state border? Clearly it shouldn’t be in my estimation. Academic Spanish language proficiency generally speaking excluding little you know um uh differences and varieties of Spanish but generally speaking academic Spanish language proficiency in my opinion should not be any different from uh how it’s uh conceptualized in New York or Utah or uh Florida? Why why should it be any different? Why should uh how we define and conceptualize English language proficiency be any different uh simply because we cross a state border? So we we simply have a lot of work to do in terms of pushing those tests forward. And I’m not advocating for just simply raising the bar and you know re..you know requiring the teacher to uh reach a higher standard without providing that person with ample opportunity to reach that standard. And that ample opportunity to reach a teacher-like, professional-like level of proficiency in Spanish again is tied back to having had the opportunity K-12 opportunities to study science in Spanish and math in Spanish, k? So there’s there’s a conundrum of sorts. We’ve we’re we’re we’re kind of we’ve painted ourselves into a corner as I see it because we we you know we realize that the teachers should be very proficient in the language. I mean that’s that’s one of the primary (pause) premises on which bilingual education is founded. Bilingual education is founded on the premise that that child should be provided with a native language foundation. How are they going to get a solid native language foundation so that their transition into English proficiency will be more successful if the teachers themselves feel or expresses senses of linguistic inadequacy in the Spanish language? So we’re we’re we’re caught up in in in we’re we have a serious problem. We really do in my estimation. Again uh how do how do we undo it? Well that’s that’s another question. (Pause) I hope I’m answering these. (Laughs)”

“Talk about the four skills exam and the issues of its validity for use in examining language proficiency for bilingual teachers. Is that different (Mr. Guerrero clears throat) from what you were talking about?”

“Mmm (pause) a a little but I can say a few things and you may be able to insert it. Um I had the opportunity to um to take a look at um (pause) the four skills exam um which until recently was the exam that was used in the state of New Mexico. It was um developed between 1978 and 1981. It was basically developed over a three year period and um make no doubt the intentions were were were in the right place right? The people who were the the New Mexican stakeholders who came together uh were doing something that ss..states today still have not gotten around to doing and that is developing a test to have some measure of assurance that the kids are being served by a teacher who can communicate uh well enough in the language to help them progress conceptually and and so on. Um but the problem that I found with the four skills exam was that there were two problems. One was that um (pause) one was clearly psychometric. There’s there were psychometric problems. They had rating scales for which they had no benchmarks. They were measuring uh constructs like uh fluent or um let’s say um see if I can think of a couple of the features that they tried to measure. Um (pause) the the main point is that there were there were several language constructs or abilities that they were trying to measure that were poorly defined by the test development team to begin with. That in conjunction with um with rating scales that had no benchmarks made making a judgment about the test takers ability very very very difficult to do in a reliable way. Those are those are basic fundamentals of sound language testing. You need a you need to define what it is you’re purporting to measure. You need to establish benchmarks. You need to you need to establish benchmarks for your rating scales so that this is this is excellent and this is fair and this is poor is is clearly understood. Well those didn’t exist. Um there were a number of problems of that kind of of the psychometric type that were really um the responsibility of the test development team ok? They meant well. The biggest problem with the four skills exam really has nothing to do with the design of the test itself. It has to do with how the test was used by policy makers. In this case what we have is a situation where the test was originally designed to measure the teachers’ language proficiency who would be working uh and teaching within a K-3 uh kind of range. Well just as soon as that test was finished it was decided that the test would be used for Kinder through Eight grade. K, it was never designed for K-8 it was designed for K-3. That had nothing to do with the integrity of of the test psychometrically speaking. It had more to do with the inappropriate use of the test. And then it was used K-12. And then it was used to reflect some language competencies that were adopted by the state that it w..it had it never had anything to do with. And so it was poor poor judgment on the part of policy makers. They may have thought that um well something is better than nothing. And and perhaps, perhaps it was. Uh but as far as I’m concerned if teachers are being certified with this K Kindergarten through Eighth grade then the test should reflect Kinder through Eight grade kinds of language demands and standards as well. Um the reading and literacy parts of the test as well were very very discreet point oriented. And and th..well that’s fine you know? But that can’t be all that uh that is captured as a person’s ability to manipulate discreet aspects of the language and that that’s what they’re judged on but it it also has to be tied to more extended pieces of text and discourse. Am I taking to long?”

“No but it’s time for us probably to move on to the next question.”

“K.”

“Uh what is the evidence that sustained native language instruction as important for student achievement?”

“Now what concerns me about um what I have been trying to alert the community to the educa..bilingual education stakeholders to regarding the academic language proficiency of teachers is um is this is this uh question and and even for myself it remains a question is in that is there a relationship between the teachers level of academic language proficiency and student achievement, k? Um and the evidence is is is um it’s not based like on an explicit research study or a series of explicit research studies where we identified a hundred different bilingual education teachers and we classified them to see how proficient they were and we had some who were highly proficient and some we thought were fairly proficient and some we thought were barely proficient and then we did a study to see uh how that impacted their students’ reading achievement in Spanish or
their math achievement as measured by some test. Those kinds of studies have not been conducted but there is evidence for example that two way developmental bilingual education programs are the more effective approaches uh program models to uh in terms of serving language minority children. Uh the research by Thomas and Collier points in that direction. The the research done by Catherine Lyndhome points in that direction. Uh the research done by Donna Christian and her group at the Center for Applied Linguistics points in that direction that hey developmental two way programs seem to yield the best results in terms of achievement for the students. Well (clears throat) it’s interesting to note that the teachers in these dual language programs as best as I can tell from the literature that I’ve been able to review tend to be native speakers of the language or have native-like fluency in the language. And in fact that’s one of the requirements for becoming a dual language teacher is to be able to deliver instruction across the curriculum in Spanish or whatever the non-English language is. So (clears throat) you know while the research isn’t it wasn’t clearly clearly focused on trying to establish any causal relationship. Um there were earlier studies that were done uh in the late seventies that tried to look at that and and uh they indicated that uh and and this was basically a little s..series of studies that Barbara Medino was involved in in the late seventies. Um but my my main point is simply that isn’t it interesting that the most effective programs in bilingual education also use teachers who are highly proficient in the language? That’s interesting to me. I mean I don’t want to say that there’s this causal relationship but I will argue that the teachers’ ability to communicate in the non-English language is somehow a more critical variable than other factors might be because let’s see if I can give you an example. The teachers’ ability to speak in Spanish will influence their ability to engage in effective parental involvement. It will influence their ability to assess the child in a valid manner. It will influence their ability to deliver instruction across the curriculum. It will influence their ability to establish uh a teacher student relationship the more affective part of it. So there’s clearly something very central about the teachers’ ability to communicate that makes it in my opinion stand apart from some of the other factors. They may be good with methods ok but if they don’t have the ability to really uh bring those methods to life they don’t have the language ability to bring those methods to life what good are the methods? They’re not. I mean you know it’s great they have these methods but if they c..they just can’t engage in the discourse in the Spanish language that that is generated from these methods then well I guess that’s good but it certainly could be a lot better. (Clears throat)”

“Ok. We’re down to that soapbox question.”

“Oh.”

“What issue or concern more than any other do you see as your personal soapbox issue that connects your expertise to the education of of your students?”

“(Clears throat) I think um one of the issues in language minority education and in um bilingual education in particular that concerns me the most that really I I suppose perhaps it’s something that I’m living uh at this point in my life um as a Assistant Professor over at the University of Texas at Austin. It’s seeing how um (pause) we take research that’s been conducted on native speakers of English and we make use of that research to try and make sense of the needs of language minority children, k? Uh, and then once we think we’ve made sense of uh the research that was centered on the native English speaking child or schooling in general once we think we’ve made sense of it then we rush to create policies that govern how language minority children will be schooled and educated and and o…uh the problem that I see with that is that (clears throat) we’re assuming that th..w..w there are certain leaps of faith here that we’re making. I’ll give you I’ll try and give you a good example. In the state of Texas um we established or the State Department of Education established what they considered to be a research-based approach to teaching young learners to read in English ok? It was clearly designed for native English speaking children. And we in the field of bilingual education were wondering well is this supposed to be the answer or the direction the research direction that we’re all supposed to follow in terms of meeting the needs of the language minority children in the state? And and apparently so. So when I look back at the document that this is tied to and I study it carefully and I and I and I’m not the first one to reach this conclusion or realization that there’s very little in the research that was that under that that was used to develop the document in the first place that has anything to do with language minority children. Very little research that w..was ever tied to teaching kids to read in Spanish k has a case and point. (Pause) Similar matters like taking the English reading curriculum and simply translating it into Spanish and feeling that we have done justice to the issue you know? We haven’t you know? We we simply th..that is what irritates me that is what that is what I’m I’m trying to uh I suppose uh trying to dedicate myself to in that you know we have a lot of research yet to be done and if we really want to do justice to serving this growing segment of our population and this very important part of our population because ten years from now twenty years from now they will we will be counting on them to be a productive part of our citizenry. So you know my sense is that you know we really we really need to begin focusing on research on language minority students and and Kenji Ocuda and Diane Auguss I think you know there was a lot of uh concern b..on some peoples’ part uh regarding this research agenda that they that they uh headed up and created but I think it’s I think it’s a fabulous uh step in the right direction wow you know? A research agenda exclusive to language minority children. That’s fabulous you know? Sure it has its problems of course. But it’s a I think a great step. Um um now what we need to do of course is to is to get um the research uh agencies in line here so that you know we can direct energy and resources and and make it make this agenda a priority you know? Uh those are the kind of issues that uh I’m I’m hoping that I can help be you know be a part of m..moving this moving this forward. We we have we have a lot of work ahead of us um clearly you know a tremendous amount of work and I feel like uh we’re we’re at a crossroads you know we really are. (Beeping) (Laughs) I’ll stop.”