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As a refugee child, I encountered many difficulties and challenges in the public schools. Today, a generation later, many, many children face the same problems. As a result, countless bilingual and limited-English-proficient students are lagging behind their peers. Minority students are being labeled and treated differently from their classmates. Although equally capable, they are receiving a second-class education. The reason is the hidden curriculum in the current American educational system.
What is a hidden curriculum? Posner (1995) defined a hidden curriculum as instructional norms and values not openly acknowledged by teachers or school officials. That curriculum generally is concerned with "issues of gender, class and race, and authority" as well as "which children can succeed at various kinds of knowledge" (Giroux & Purpel, 1983, cited in Posner, p.12). A hidden curriculum is also known as the informal or implicit curriculum.
Most people would not even think that schools could have hidden agendas. But there is something called "school culture," which is a hegemonic value system under which schools operate. For instance, in 2005, the Education Trust-West studied the largest school districts in California and found that the schools serving black, Latino, and poor minority students spend as estimated $3,000 less per teacher. In other words, these schools only recruit underpaid, less experienced, and newer teachers to teach minority students.
Parents usually think that the American public education system is so wonderful when they learn that their students are getting "As" or "Bs" and have perfect citizenship marks. Most parents, especially bilingual, immigrant, and refugee parents, do not ask about the curriculum or the instructional schemes the teachers use. Parents tend to be more concerned about the grades and behaviors of their children than what or how they are learning. In some cultures, receiving good grades means every thing to students, their families, and their parents. For the most part, parents trust teachers and highly respect them as authority figures.
However, for far too many children, having good grades does not mean that students know how to read and write or that they have mastered any content knowledge or academic skills needed for success. This academic deficiency is due to a hidden curriculum that parents need to be aware of if their children are to succeed in school academically. Parents should keep in mind that academic grades must reflect the quality of education that their children received; otherwise, receiving good grades is part of the covert social promotion used by schools that will inhibit minority students' academic potential in the future.
Sheltered Instruction Is a Curricular By-Product
The hidden curriculum is an underlying agenda that affects students of low socioeconomic status, particularly language-minority students. It is based on the attitude that non-English-speaking students are not capable of the same academic achievement as native speakers. English language learners (ELLs)--students whose first language is not English--are classified as either limited-English-proficient (LEP) or fluent-English-proficient (FEP). LEP students are generally placed in bilingual classrooms and FEP students in regular courses of studies.
The 1974 case of Lau v. Nicholas established the premise that public schools should give non-native students extra assistance to help them excel in school. But the court did not specify what public schools should do to help English language learners excel academically. Public schools, faced with the challenge of teaching ELL students, developed the LEP curricula.
Today's LEP curricula conform to legal mandates, but the implementation of curricular programs is somewhat capricious. Proposition 227, "English Only Instruction," has neither proved or disproved English proficiency of ELL students, nor has there been a development of methods and sensible programs to assist teachers in teaching English to ELL students to narrow the gap.
The result is that minority students too often are taught low content and given materials that do not meet state standards for content knowledge. Many LEP students are not at grade level, based on the tracking scales used by school districts, and score poorly on the academic performance index. The academic performance index scores of ELL students are in the bottom quartile in all tested areas.
More often than not, the curriculum for ELL students is watered down in the public schools. ELL students are not being taught the same ways as others with the same curriculum. Teachers teach bilingual students survival and social skills, drilling them on less important academic tasks that are not related to the operational curricula.
The grades in bilingual classrooms are therefore not indicative of the same academic quality as the grades in regular classrooms. Even if the curricula in bilingual classes are similar to the curricula in regular classes, the academic quality of the instruction is usually different. For instance, LEP students are graded well if they can read, but other students must demonstrate that they comprehend what they read. There is a difference between reading comprehension and the ability to read. ELL students' grades do not reflect the inferior quality of the academics they receive.
The inferior quality of ELL education is compounded by the fact that the hidden curriculum is present in the hiring process. Schools with high minority populations tend to hire less qualified teachers to teach the students who are less proficient in English. The instructional approaches may be the same as for other students, but the content is lower and the quality of education is poorer, using content-compatibility rather than content-obligatory.
Many public schools do not seem to be bothered that some students receive a poor education in their institutions. For instance, school districts with a large number of ELLs tend to use temporary grants to hire teachers who are only pink-slipped to fill the classrooms where most minority students are enrolled. This is because the hidden curriculum trains these students to fill the lower positions in the social order. They are not expected to pursue higher education or …