Parents of Immigrant Children Must Help Shoulder Language Burden

by Christopher Paslay


Last Sunday, 200 parents of non-English speaking families gathered in a South Philadelphia church to complain to district officials that they wanted more bilingual accommodations in schools. 


Although I’m a committed educator, I admit I feel a pang of anger when I hear parents of immigrant children complaining about the lack of language services.  It’s not that I don’t want foreign born children to get a quality education, it’s just that their parent’s attitude of entitlement is a bit frustrating.


It’s almost as if their status as immigrants gives them a free pass: They’re held accountable to a different standard because the school district is mandated by law to accommodate a foreign born student’s every linguistic whim. 


The tragic part is, the Philadelphia School District’s promise to provide bilingual services to all immigrant families is completely unrealistic.  According to research complied by the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, there are currently over 12,000 foreign born students in city schools who speak over 50 languages. 


Further data shows that only 11 percent of these children will ever reach the level of proficiency in English and successfully exit district ESOL programs.


The Philadelphia School District’s resources are just too limited to accommodate every immigrant with a language deficiency.  The burden of teaching English to foreign born children must not rest solely with city schools—it must be shared by everyone in the community—social service agencies, churches, and by the parents of the children themselves. 


For non-English speaking families to stand idly by and wait for public schools to kowtow to their every need is foolish and irresponsible.  Parents of foreign born children must help shoulder the burden and not only learn English themselves, but pass the language on to their children at an early age.

2 thoughts on “Parents of Immigrant Children Must Help Shoulder Language Burden

  1. Christopher,
    As a second-generation American, I can sympathize with many of the parents. Both sets of my grandparents did not know English when they came to America but eventually learned to speak then write English.
    On the other-hand, some of the parents who complain are from Puerto Rico and, unless you live in an inland village far from San Juan, Puerto Rico does teach English to its students. Here in the United States, high school and college students are required to take English (grammar/writing) and another language. Other countries do the same except they learn their native language plus another language PLUS English!
    I agree with sending home notes in their native language but how do we know they can read their native language? As an ESOL teacher, I’ve had parents tell me they can’t read these notes or that their child does not speak another language. The paperwork is ridiculous that parents sometimes check the wrong box, which requires their child to be tested for ESOL services.
    The sad part of the whole deal is nothing will be done. There is no longer an ESOL department at 440. When you try to contact ESOL, the phone just rings and rings. No one picks up. Emails go unanswered. Plus, with new laws and requirements, ELLs have only five years before they’re basically kicked-out of the program. And people wonder why there is such a high drop-out rate!

  2. Mary,

    The language problem in Philadelphia is a complex one indeed. I have very bright and intelligent students in my classes who are clearly struggling with language issues–and the District’s services are too limited. This is why I think there must be a campaign for help outside the District–get churches involved, have parents form support groups–anything to wean away their total dependency on the District. Our parents and grandparents did it, which proves it can be done. As for the District cutting their ESOL department at 440–this situation MUST be properly addressed. You say emails go unanswered? The phone at ESOL just rings and rings? My goodness. This sound like the same shenanigans that was going on for so long at PGW. Unbelievable.

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