The impact of English for the Children on the language and literacy development of English learners

Following the passage of Proposition 227 in 1998, significant numbers of California's English Learner (EL) students have been placed into Structured English Immersion (SEI) classrooms. Using a qualitative approach to inquiry, this study looked at the impact of the implementation of English-only language policies on the classroom experience of EL students in SEI classrooms. In particular, this inquiry focused on the impact of Prop 227 policies on language usage and access to literacy. Participant observations were conducted in the SEI classrooms of one K-2 school, which has a large population of EL students. It was found that Prop 227 has had a profound influence on the language dynamics of students in these SEI classrooms. The focus of instruction is almost exclusively on the target language, English, and students are being excluded from drawing upon their linguistic backgrounds as a resource for learning. English emerges as the language of status, and within this English-only context, teachers do most of the talking and students are often silent or silenced. Students are also being denied meaningful participation in literacy activities because of their limited language proficiency. Such an unbalanced focus on language usage and the acquisition of English has resulted in a narrow and reductive notion of literacy, which serves to marginalize students and deny them access to literacy, further widening the achievement gap for EL students. Experimental language policies that have no basis in research such as those mandated by Prop 227 are putting a whole generation of English Learner students at risk.