State, District Actions Address Bilingual Issues
Several school systems, citing practical and pedagogical reasons, are introducing or contemplating changes in their bilingual-education programs this fall.
The changes, in part, address such problems as a shortage of bilingual teachers and concerns that pupils are not being mainstreamed into English classrooms quickly enough.
In the Dallas Independent School District, administrators have launched a new program that is expected to ease the burden on schools with few bilingual teachers, while serving more limited-English-proficient students.
Under the plan, schools with 100 or more lep students that do not have enough certified bilingual educators will pair bilingual and monolingual teachers to teach Spanish and English language-arts lessons. The time spent on Spanish will decrease as students progress through the grades. Other subjects will be taught in English, using English-as-a-second-language methods.
In schools serving fewer than 100 l.e.p. students, all classes will use the English-as-a-second-language approach.
By making better use of faculty resources, the plan will enable Dallas to offer native-language classes to 10,000 l.e.p. elementary-school students, twice the number served last year, said Rosita Apodaca, an assistant superintendent of schools. The district has an estimated 15,000 lep pupils in the elementary grades.
The state's bilingual-education law mandates that most instruction in the early grades be in a student's native language, although the state grants some exceptions to that requirement. (See story, this page.)
Ms. Apodaca said that data showing "no marked difference" in test scores of students who received greater and lesser amounts of native-language instruction helped justify Dallas's approach to educating lep pupils.
N.J. Exit Requirements
In New Jersey, meanwhile, a proposal to ease exit requirements for students in bilingual education has drawn criticism from bilingual-education advocates and a state ombudsman.
Under the plan recommended by Saul Cooperman, state commissioner of education, students would8move out of bilingual education if they passed a language-proficiency test. The current system requires that such students also show mastery of basic skills and receive favorable teacher evaluations.
The proposal was withdrawn from the agenda of the state board of education this month, but the department is expected to resubmit the plan after reviewing the opinion issued by the ombudsman.
Rolando Torres, an assistant deputy public advocate, charged that the proposal was "unsupported by reasoned analysis" and could violate the state's bilingual-education law.
Supporters say the plan would standardize exit rules across districts and keep students from stayel10ling in bilingual classes longer than necessary. Opponents contend it would prematurely push students out of bilingual education and into costly remedial programs.
Ofelia Oviedo, who chairs the state advisory committee on bilingual education, warned: "We may be sending students into remediation when the problem is that the skill of a new language has not really been acquired. You don't punish the existing program by overburdening compensatory education."
But Richard DiPatri, Mr. Cooperman's assistant for educational programs, argued that the proposal was "based on research" that students who pass the language test can be successfully mainstreamed. If a student is behind in other skills, he added, "we say remediate [those] skills."
Report in Boston
Concern that some students stay in bilingual classrooms too long could also bring changes in the Boston school district's bilingual-education program.
A report this fall by the Greater Boston Regional Education Center said that more than 600 of the city's 7,800 lep students had remained in bilingual programs for six years or more and that some were still not ready for mainstream classes.
Boston officials currently are analyzing the data to see how much of the problem is attributable to factors such as learning disabilities.
The district's superintendent of schools, Laval S. Wilson, has called for a pilot alternative program for "extended stay" bilingual students. He has also recommended better monitoring and staffing and other improvements in the bilingual program.
While other districts are reviewing the way they teach English to immigrant students, the Dade County, Fla., schools are considering requiring English-speaking students to learn Spanish.
Superintendent of Schools Joseph Fernandez has said he favors the idea. He notes that 42 percent of the county's population is Hispanic and that much of its business is conducted in Spanish.
While the district now requires all Hispanic elementary-school students to study Spanish unless their parents "opt out," it offers Spanish for non-Hispanic students in grades 2-6 only at the parents' request. Mr. Fernandez said a proposal to begin that program in kindergarten and require it unless parents opt out may come before the school board in January.