The Commonwealth of Virginia has been doing quite a bit of moaning about its English language learner problem under NCLB:
Officials in some school districts with a high number of immigrants are threatening to defy a federal law that requires all children to take the same reading tests, even those struggling to learn English.
This month, the U.S. Department of Education threatened sanctions against Virginia – including the possibility of withholding funds – if the state doesn't enforce the provision, which is part of the No Child Left Behind law.
The Virginia Department of Education had sought an exemption for another year, contending that the rule is unfair.
Immigrants who have been in the U.S. a short time "are simply unable to take a test written in English and produce results that are meaningful in any way," said Donald Ford, superintendent of the Harrisonburg city school division.
NCLB is scheduled to be rewritten this year and it is likely that the rules for older students who are recent immigrants will be changed to give them additional time to learn English. In my opinion, however, there really is no reason to make an exception for younger students who are recent immigrants and just entering school.
The problem is not that many of these ELL kids don't know English, but that they don't know concepts in any language. Engelmann addressed this problem (chapter 2 (pp. 61-62) of his book (no longer available online)) of low performing ELL children such as the ones at the Uvalde, TX school system which was a Project Follow Through site:
The children in Uvalde had a large range of skill variation. The lower performers were lower than any of the Portuguese children I had worked with. Teachers felt that these children were progressing slowly because instruction was in English. I had a teacher test some of the lower-performing children in Spanish on their knowledge of prepositions, colors, and words like left and right. Not one of the children knew more than a third of the words the teacher tested. I tried to make the point that if children don’t know the “concepts” in either English or Spanish, the most efficient practice is to teach in English. We knew that they would need understanding of them in English to perform on tasks the teacher would present later.
Higher performers who know concepts in Spanish merely have to learn the associated word in English which is easier than teaching the underlying concept to a child who doesn't know the concept in the first place.
So, this criticism of NCLB is a non-starter with me, as is the meme that NCLB is underfunded. The underlying problem remains poor instruction being doled out to ELL children and that is what NCLB intends to fix.