Conn. District Replaces Bilingual Classes With English-Dominant Instruction

In New Britain, Connecticut, a new school superintendent has pushed for a dramatic and controversial shift in how to instruct English Language Learners.

Superintendent Kelt Cooper is doing away with bilingual education and phasing in mostly English classes that with an intensive focus on grammar, a recent story on PBS News Hour reported. He compares the approach to teaching English as a foreign language.

Cooper was unhappy with how ELLs in the district were performing on standardized tests.

Prior to the shift, DiLoreto Magnet Elementary School used dual-language instruction. But the school was faltering. As PBS notes, about 85 percent of ELLs were failing the state’s reading exam.

“When it comes to English-language learners, I make it very clear — our job and our objective is to get them to acquire English as rapidly as possible, so they can be in the mainstream,” Cooper told PBS.

Critics of the program are concerned about the message it sends to weaken the bilingual program. School board member Aram Ayalon, an education professor, believes that the dual-language program could have worked if it had been better carried out correctly.

“A basic truth in teaching is you start with what your students know, which may be Spanish, German, Polish, and you build on that,” he told PBS.

Cooper, the superintendent, previously led the school district in Del Rio, Texas, along the U.S.-Mexico border. He stirred up controversy in that district. According to media reports, he cracked down on students who lived in Mexico but attended Del Rio schools by posting staff members at the Mexican border to pull aside students crossing over.

“Anti-immigration groups heralded Cooper as a hero while civil rights advocates questioned whether he approach was constitutional — or effective, since so many of the targeted youngsters proved they were legally allowed to attend Del Rio Schools,” the Hartford Courant reported.

PBS points out that Cooper implemented an English-dominant strategy in Del Rio, with mixed results — more students reached English proficiency, but ELLs performed poorly in math and science.

Watch the PBS News Hour video report on New Britain Schools here.

Related Links:

– “Language Wars: Should Spanish-Speaking Students Be Taught in English Only?” PBS News Hour.

– The Consolidated School District of New Britain, CT.

– “New Britain Schools Outline Plan to Improve English Skills,” Hartford Courant.

– “Texas school district turns away students from Mexico,” CNN.

Catholic Schools Add Dual-Language Classes

While many public schools offer bilingual classes, not much is written about what Catholic schools are doing. Some are beginning to implement programs that reflect their substantial Latino student populations.

The News Tribune reports that Holy Rosary School in Tacoma, Wash., recently launched a new two-way language program known as Academia Juan Diego. The school began with preschool and kindergarten students, and will expand to older grades in the coming years. The students are a mix of native English and native Spanish speakers.

Three days a week students learn in Spanish, and two days in English.  They even pray in both English and Spanish at the beginning of the school day.

“We wanted to serve Hispanic students, and we wanted to increase our ministry and reach out to Hispanic Catholics,” principal Tim Uhl told the newspaper. “This is the future of the church.”

Last fall, St. Mary Star of the Sea School in Connecticut became the first Catholic school in the state to offer dual-language classes in English and Spanish. St. Procopius School in Chicago has had a dual-language program for more than 15 years.

Catholic schools have had an interesting relationship with bilingualism. Many churches now hold Spanish-language masses. When my mother was a child attending Catholic schools in San Antonio as a child, she wasn’t allowed to speak Spanish.

But in the book the Strange Career of BIlingual Education in Texas, 1836-1981, author Carlos Kevin Blanton describes how Catholic schools along the Texas-Mexico border in cities such as Brownsville and El Paso, and historically offered bilingual classes in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

How are Catholic schools instructing limited English proficient students in your area? Do they offer bilingual programs or instruction all in English? What are the outcomes for the children?

Related Links:

– “Tacoma’s Holy Rosary School takes bilingual path.” The News Tribune. 

– “Catholic education about to go bilingual.” The Day (Connecticut). 

– “Improving Bilingual Service Delivery in Catholic Schools Through Two-Way Immersion.” Marquette University (2010). 

– “The Strange Career of Bilingual Education in Texas.” (Excerpt). 

Illinois Law Boosts Bilingual Education Programs

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law on Thursday that aims to strengthen the state’s bilingual education programs by ordering a report  on their effectiveness and by creating ways to increase parent involvement.

The law, House Bill 3819, was sponsored by state representative Linda Chapa LaVia and state senator Iris Martinez. “Parents of non-English speaking students want–and need–to feel a greater stake in navigating their child’s education,” Rep. Chapa LaVia said at the ceremony, reported Fox News Latino. “This new law opens the door to such innovations as ‘parent academies’ to accomplish that.”

The law supports the creation of parent academies for parents of bilingual students that will be held in Spanish. These programs are intended to help immigrant parents navigate the school system. The academies will focus on teaching parents about topics including understanding standardized tests, encouraging reading at home,  promoting homework completion, building character and encouraging a relationship with their child’s teachers.

It also requires that bilingual programs’ success rates be evaluated by the Illinois Advisory Council on Bilingual Education and that the findings be delivered in a report to the state superintendent by January 2013. The report will evaluate whether bilingual programs should be modified to increase student success and boost parent involvement. It also asks the council to address how bilingual parent advisory committees at the school district level can be used to increase parent input on the programs’ effectiveness.

Fox reported that Illinois State Board of Education figures show that in 2010, about 183,000 students did not speak English as their first language. They made up almost 10 percent of all students. About 80 percent of the students were Spanish-speaking.

Governor Quinn added that the law “will keep Illinois on the cutting edge of bilingual education programs to ensure that every student is ready for the workforce,” reported Fox.

Related Links:

– “Law aims to strengthen bilingual education in Illinois.” Fox News Latino/EFE

– “New Illinois law to evaluate bilingual education.” AP.

– “Illinois law strengthens bilingual education.” WREX.

– House Bill 3819.

– Illinois Advisory Council on Bilingual Education.

Illinois Aims to Help English Language Learners Get an Early Start

Illinois is working to ensure that English language learners start bilingual education classes even before they enter kindergarten. A new report by the New America Foundation details how the state is working to provide special services for ELLs beginning in its pre-K program.

The state plans to implement the new regulations fully by 2014. The requirements include training teachers on how to instruct ELLs, determining how to evaluate such children and developing instruction models specifically targeting ELL students.

But many critics believe that the requirements might be impossible to meet. The report  by policy analyst Maggie Severns notes that the changes have been controversial. Previously, bilingual education wasn’t offered until kindergarten. “Debates are erupting among advocates and opponents of the regulations alike over whether Illinois’ bilingual pre-K regulations are developmentally appropriate, whether the state will be able to fund the programs using the existing state bilingual budget, and whether Illinois can successfully recruit a qualified workforce for bilingual/ESL classrooms,” she writes.

A shortage of certified bilingual and ESL teachers who also are trained in early childhood education is an additional challenge. However, some universities in the state are now offering specialized training in the area. Many districts still are finding it difficult to comply with regulations.

In 2010, there were 183,522 ELLs attending Illinois schools in grades PK-12.

The study notes that developing an English proficiency screening program for children so young has also prompted debate. Currently, the preschool programs use the pre-IPT, a 20-minute listening and speaking exam given by a teacher.

While critics question whether the expectations are realistic, the report ends on a hopeful note–that early investment may mean less cost later. “Illinois may be making a shrewd investment by focusing on ELLs during their early years, gaining savings from students spending fewer years in bilingual/ESL programs, needing less remediation in the later grades, and achieving long-term gains from increased graduation rates in high school and a better-educated workforce,” the report concludes.

If you’re not in Illinois, does your state offer bilingual and/or ESL pre-K courses? What sort of program requirements exist?

Dual-language Programs Expanding Rapidly in Texas

Schools that offer dual-language programs rather than traditional transitional bilingual programs are increasing rapidly in Texas. Dianne Solís of The Dallas Morning News reports on the growing phenomenon, which includes suburban districts as well as urban ones.

It isn’t surprising that Texas has seen such dramatic growth. Texas law requires that bilingual programs be offered when 20 or more children who are limited English proficient in a grade level share a language. In 2011, about 17 percent of children enrolled in Texas public schools were classified limited English proficient, most of them native Spanish speakers.

In the past, transitional bilingual programs often operated on a model where children entered school and were taught mostly in Spanish then transitioned over the years into mostly English. Dual programs give equal time to learning Spanish and English, across all grades using the program.

Texas schools using dual programs were highlighted during the recent National Association for Bilingual Education conference in Dallas. The article reports that conference speakers said Texas leads the nation with about 700 schools using dual-language programs.

Particularly popular are “two-way” programs, in which native English and native Spanish speakers are enrolled together.

As the children age, programs are being expanded through middle school and even high school. The paper reports that in the suburban Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District, parents of children in one elementary school’s two-way dual program have asked that it be extended. “My opinion: It will only grow as people understand the value of it,” says Bobby Burns, Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD superintendent. “By far, it is the right thing to do for students. For Texas, we need to be a bilingual state.”

Read the full story here.

If you are reporting on dual-language programs in your own area, be sure to ask about the exact structure of the program:

  • Is the dual program offered one-way or two-way?
  • How are the languages split–by half day, every other day, or every other week?
  • Is every subject taught in English and Spanish, or are some subjects designated as taught in Spanish only and others in English only?
  • Are there two teachers who alternate and specialize in each language, or is there just one teacher who teaches in both languages?

It’s important to note that not every dual-language program is structured the same way.

Many Suburban Chicago Schools Fail to Provide Bilingual Programs

Many suburban Chicago school districts are failing to provide bilingual education programs as required by state law, a recent Catalyst Chicago analysis shows.

Illinois law requires that schools with 20 or more students sharing the same native language must offer a bilingual education program to qualified students. Catalyst found that between 2009 and 2011, of 58 suburban districts visited by monitors, about 40 percent–or 22 districts– failed to provide a bilingual program. None met all requirements for serving English language learners. These results are important because the majority of the state’s Latinos now live in the suburbs.

According to coverage by the Chicago News Cooperative:

Compliance problems included bilingual courses taught by teachers who lacked required language or subject-matter certification, classes with substandard content, and failure to make yearly assessments of how well students are learning English.

Many of the suburbs struggle to find enough certified bilingual teachers. Some have turned to sheltered English instruction for English language learners. There are some successful dual-language instruction programs, but teacher shortages limit the expansion of those.

“There is a lot of hardship on some districts to comply where there are newer populations” of English-language learners, Reyna Hernandez told the Chicago News Cooperative. She is assistant superintendent of the Center for Language and Early Childhood Development at the Illinois State Board of Education.

Catalyst reports that the state is considering changes that could reduce the number of schools requiring certified bilingual teachers and that would reduce instruction in the native language taking place in bilingual programs.

If you’d like to learn more about the state of bilingual education in Illinois, Catalyst has posted a series of articles on the topic online. The stories point out issues with bilingual programs in the Chicago Public Schools. Namely, that some children aren’t becoming English proficient even after spending years in the program. So even when bilingual education programs are offered as required by law, they’re not necessarily without flaws.

You can check in your state whether districts are meeting all requirements for serving English language learners. The state department of education should have this information.

Also, if your state offers bilingual classes, is there a shortage of qualified teachers and–if so–how is the shortage being addressed? Some districts have been known to bring teachers from Puerto Rico, Mexico or Spain to teach students. Others offer pay stipends of several thousand dollars to entice applicants.

Review Finds Flaws in Houston’s Bilingual Education Program

A report evaluating the Houston Independent School District’s bilingual programs found that children are not being taught enough English in elementary grades and that some teachers themselves are not proficient in the language.

Ericka Mellon of the Houston Chronicle reports that school superintendent Terry Grier is now pledging to review the district’s programs. He initiated the outside review. “Our staff has had a lot of debate,” Grier told the newspaper. “How much English should be taught? How much Spanish should be taught? We need to figure that out, and we need to figure out why our results are not any better than they are.”

The district uses transitional bilingual programs where students begin classes mostly in Spanish and the amount of English used for instruction is gradually increased. Many Texas districts, including Dallas, have switched totally to dual-language instruction.

The report outlines a number of ways that the district can strengthen its program. Reviewers suggest that children should be moved earlier into classes that are taught half the time in English and half the time in Spanish–ideally by the third grade. It also asks that the amount of English be increased beginning with the kindergarten program.

Children also aren’t being exposed to strong English speakers enough, the study noted:

“…based on data gathered from the interview forums, there were widespread reports that it is difficult to find a sufficient number of teachers who are strong speakers of both English and Spanish and who are able to move between the languages with ease, teaching bilingually. Moreover, in many of the traditional bilingual programs, ELLs are in classrooms composed almost entirely of other ELLs.”

Reviewers suggest that if a teacher who is strong in both Spanish and English cannot be found, the program should be taught in pairs and teachers should switch off so they are only instructing in their dominant language. The district also could offer language training for teachers. It suggests that the expansion of two-way bilingual programs where English-dominant children also are present in the classes would help the children still learning English.

Students should also continue to receive Spanish instruction in middle and high school, the report said.

The review also made suggestions for improvements to the English as a second language program.

In the 2010-11 school year, about 31 percent of Houston ISD’s students—or 61,946—were classified as limited English proficient. State figures show that the district’s graduation rate for limited English proficient students was 30 percent in 2010, well behind other districts in the state.

The program evaluators are Diane August of the Center for Applied Linguistics,  Beverly Irby, an education professor at Sam Houston State University; Rafael Lara-Alecio, a bilingual education professor at Texas A&M University; and Nonie Lesaux, an education professor at Harvard University.

“Houston ISD is not unlike many school districts in Texas and in the U.S. that have concerns and issues that need to be addressed for bilingual and ESL education,” the Chronicle quoted Irby as saying.

The study included a two-day on site review in June 2011 and a review of program materials and data. Click here to read the abbreviated summary.

Bilingual education can mean very different things in different school districts. If you are writing about the topic, ask your district for the program’s structure. This should include how much time is spent instructing in each language. Get as much detail as you can–the district should have this mapped out day-by-day in a chart.