Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A couple literacy-related news stories

Hi everyone,

Three news stories of interest (and one postivite one!)

PUBLICATION: Kingston Whig-Standard (ON)
DATE: 2006.08.30
BYLINE: Ian Elliot

Board slashes literacy instructors by half

Literacy instructors with the Limestone District School Board fear cuts to their program will hobble their efforts to help students who are falling behind in class.

As part of a $3-million cost-cutting exercise to strike a balanced budget, the school board cut the number of literacy instructors. The instructors provide tutoring to students in kindergarten to Grade 3 who have been identified by their teachers as having a difficulty.

Eight of the 16 instructors will be given other positions with the board, but Robin Schock, one of those reassigned workers, fears the workload for the remaining eight will be too much and that they will be able to serve only half as many students as the roughly 1,200 children they collectively helped this past year.

"We have some concerns about this and we just don't think parents are aware that the board has done this," Schock said yesterday.

Schock said the instructors will be spread more thinly, will have to travel to more schools and, instead of seeing children daily, might only see them once every two days, which she says is a much less effective way of helping them with their reading.

"This mode of instruction is highly dysfunctional, lacking in effectiveness and creates instructor burnout," she said.

"Most importantly, students make very little progress as the ideal method of delivery is repetition every day for optimal results."

Ron Sharp, the director of education for the Limestone board, said the cuts were made reluctantly and that in the area of the literacy instructors, there were other programs and initiatives in schools that would soften the blow.

"It's not something the board wanted to do, and it was not an easy cut, but there are increased resources in other areas that teachers can use, and we have a 20-to-1 cap on class sizes in the early grades."

He noted that the board's budget philosophy was to target savings where they would be most effective and least disruptive, rather than make system-side cutbacks.

He said part of that was reassigning the eight remaining instructors to schools where they were most needed and away from schools that already score quite highly in the provincial reading and writing tests.

"We're putting these eight instructors where they are most needed, and while it is a different way of doing things, these instructors will not be working harder, they'll be working smarter," he said.

"I would rather have 16 literacy instructors than have eight, and so would everyone else at the board, but given the financial pressures that we're under, we're making the best of a bad situation."

Kingston trustee Heather Dixon, who is also the board chairwoman, said the board has made good progress in its standardized literacy test results, and the administration assured trustees that the cutback would be manageable.

"I'm a big supporter of literacy programs, but as trustees, we had to find the $3 million somewhere," she said, referring to the final round of cost-cutting that was required to finish the budget, which according to law must be balanced.

She noted trustees had their hands tied and had to cut programs because there is a provincial moratorium that forbids them from closing schools, even though they could save money doing so and put the savings into programs and new instructors.

Schock said she wants parents concerned with the cuts to make their concerns known both to the board and the provincial government, which provides money to school boards.

"Our primary concern is the children and the devastating effect this will have on the next generation's literacy skills," Schock said.


PUBLICATION: The Guardian (Charlottetown)
DATE: 2006.08.30

North Bay student researches family literacy this summer

Ashleigh McBain of North Bay, Ont., said farewell to her colleagues at UPEI earlier this month after spending the summer carrying out research in family literacy.

She is one of 11 undergraduate summer research assistants who received national awards this year from the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network (CLLRNet). The network supports these awards to assist language and literacy students to acquire research skills in preparation for potential graduate work. They are presented to students in their second last year of a three-, four-, or five-year program.

McBain worked with Vianne Timmons, UPEI vice- president of academic development, on projects spanning a wide range of research topics, including knowledge translation, inclusion, and family literacy. In particular, she has been involved in a project called Families Learning Together.

From 2003 to 2006, researchers from UPEI have worked with 31 families to develop and implement a literacy program for aboriginal families in Atlantic Canada.

The project, also funded by CLLRNet, has sought to create a literacy program that embraces the significance of aboriginal culture in order to effectively promote family literacy within aboriginal communities. McBain has contributed to the final phase of this project.

"The UPEI community has made me feel very comfortable. I have been fortunate to be surrounded by many wonderful, intelligent people who have made my time at UPEI both interesting and enjoyable. This summer has been the experience of a lifetime," she says, adding that she found her experience at UPEI to be a valuable asset for her future career as an educator and a graduate student. She will be continuing her education in Nipissing University's bachelor of education program this fall.

PUBLICATION: Vancouver Sun
DATE: 2006.08.30
SECTION: Editorial
SOURCE: Vancouver Sun

ESL students need help to stay the course: Immigrant and refugee families should stress the need for education, while governments kick in adequate funding

For many prospective immigrants and refugees around the world, Canada represents a beacon of freedom and opportunity, a place where they, and especially their children, can seek a better life.

Canada feels similarly about immigrants and refugees, because through their contributions to society and the economy, they can better the lives of all Canadians.

But it now seems that this dream has become something of a nightmare, as many new Canadians are leaving school early and accepting low-paying jobs.

Indeed, according to a new report by University of British Columbia language and literacy professor Lee Gunderson, fully 40 per cent of English-as-a-Second Language students attending Vancouver high schools drop out before they graduate.

Gunderson followed 5,000 immigrant students between 1991 and 2001 and found the dropout rate was highest when students left ESL classes, because even otherwise good students suffered a significant loss of marks.

This suggests that our attempts to acculturate new Canadians has been less than successful, and also suggests that we clearly have a lot more work to do. After all, there is little point in encouraging people to move to Canada, only to have them -- and their children -- handicapped by their inability to communicate adequately.

The question, of course, is exactly what we need to do to ensure immigrants and refugee children have a shot at success. To begin with, we might need to review the five-year limit on ESL funding. (In B.C., students are expected to learn English within five years, so the province routinely stops funding for ESL classes after that point.) This is in contrast to French immersion students, who receive support from kindergarten to Grade 12.

But the level of funding is not the only issue here. Many immigrant students leave ESL classes even before the five-year period is up because they -- or their parents -- believe there is a stigma associated with ESL education. And there might well be, but the consequences of kids dropping out of high school are much greater.

As with any parents, immigrant and refugee parents clearly have a role to play in ensuring their children's success. This goes beyond ensuring that they stay in ESL classes: All too many parents themselves fail to learn English because they settle in areas where they can continuing speaking their native languages.

Yet literacy experts note that family literacy programs, where parents and children work together on their literacy skills, are instrumental in improving all family members' ability to communicate. Immigrant and refugee parents therefore owe it to their children to learn English.

Of course, not all immigrants and refugees are the same, and our programs for helping them should recognize that. For example, Gunderson found that ESL students from Taiwan and Hong Kong were as likely to graduate from high school as Canadian-born students, while Spanish- and Vietnamese-speaking students had much lower graduation levels.

By way of explanation, Gunderson notes that many Chinese speakers come from wealthy families that value education. In contrast, many Spanish and Vietnamese speakers were refugees who had little education in their own countries. It stands to reason, then, that they would have very different attitudes toward education than students born in Canada.

Since the federal government decides who gets into the country, it needs to provide greater support to refugees and their families, as well as to immigrants who hail from countries that pay insufficient attention to education. And immigrants and refugees need to make the most of those supports, not just for themselves, but for the sake of their children, for whom they wish a better life.


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