Published Online: November 20, 1996

Dade Schools To Expand Second-Language Instruction

A new report showing that students are not meeting the increasing demand for a literate, bilingual workforce has spurred the Dade County, Fla., school board to expand language programs for all students in a district with one of the largest populations of students who do not speak English as their first language.

Under the plan, the district will increase the number of schools offering bilingual instruction, and it will provide more continuity of study from elementary school through high school.

For students enrolled in the program, 60 percent of all of their classes--in all disciplines--will be taught in English and 40 percent will be taught in Spanish, French, German, or another language. So one day a student might receive science instruction in Spanish, and the next day in English.

"In spite of the anti-immigrant wave that is sweeping the country, the board has responded to an expressed need from the local Miami community, which is saying we need this in order to survive economically," Lourdes Rovira, the district's bilingual education and foreign-language director, said last week.

The plan, approved unanimously this month, comes years after supporters first attempted to improve the language offerings in the 320,000-student district. Dade County's enrollment has swelled in the past decade with thousands of foreign-born students, many of them older and lacking formal education.

About half of the students are Hispanic, 25 percent are foreign-born, and 16 percent have limited English proficiency. Many of the system's schoolchildren speak Spanish at home, but are not proficient in reading and writing the language, school officials say.

"If you have just kitchen-table Spanish, you can't use it in the marketplace, you can't use it in academe," said Rosa Castro Feinberg, a school board member before retiring this week. She has pushed for expanding language programs during her tenure.

A Rare Initiative

A report commissioned by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and released last May finally persuaded the board to boost the language program.

The report cites the difficulties of local businesses, many of which deal in the global marketplace, in finding bilingual professionals.

Currently, more than 95 percent of the system's elementary students take a second language class through the 5th grade. The rate plummets to about 5 percent in middle school and then climbs to 10 percent in high school.

Officials speculate that the drop off is partly due to the lack of a foreign-language graduation requirement.

Dade's dual-language initiative is rare for a large district, experts say. The San Francisco school board passed a resolution last year to provide opportunities for bilingual classes for all students, and smaller districts in border regions of Texas and California, where the majority of students are native-Spanish speakers, have similar programs aimed at everyone and not just limited-English-proficient students.

But interest is growing, said James L. Lyons, the executive director of the Washington-based National Association for Bilingual Education.

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