Issue Brief Holds Up Bilingual Ed. in the Rio Grande Valley as ‘Model’

By Mary Ann Zehr — September 23, 2009 2 min read
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The Hidalgo and the Pharr San-Juan Alamo independent school districts both carry out “effective, asset-based models” for instruction of English-language learners, according to an issue brief published by the American Youth Policy Forum. The organization sponsored a trip for congressional staffers and other policymakers to those districts in May to highlight how they were preparing ELLs for college and the workplace.

As required by Texas law, both districts provide bilingual education at least through the 5th grade. The brief explains in detail how Pharr San-Juan Alamo runs a dual-language immersion program for students through the high school grades. More typically, such programs operate only through elementary school. In the Pharr San-Juan Alamo district, instruction in elementary school is half in Spanish and half in English. In middle and high school, the students receive 80 percent of instruction in English and 20 percent in Spanish.

The brief says that the students learn enough Spanish to be able to take the Spanish II Advanced Placement test by the end of middle school and the Spanish III Advanced Placement test by the end of the 9th grade.

What struck me is that the brief says both districts “have struggled to attract and train sufficient certified bilingual teachers to meet the demands of the student population.”

If districts in the Rio Grande Valley, which has many people who grew up speaking both English and Spanish at home, struggle to find certified bilingual teachers, I can imagine that this problem is even greater in many other communities that don’t have a large bilingual community.

So it seems to me that finding enough certified teachers could be an obstacle for other districts to replicate the programs that the American Youth Policy Forum are holding up as models.

Update: After a reader commented on this blog about the Advanced Placement tests in Spanish, Sarah Hooker, a program associate for the American Youth Policy Forum clarified that, in the Pharr San-Juan Alamo district, students master enough Spanish to take the Spanish Language Advanced Placement test by the end of middle school and the Spanish Literature Advanced Placement test in 9th grade (there’s no such thing as an AP Spanish I or AP Spanish II test, as the brief said). Sarah said that 74 percent of last year’s class of 8th graders received a score of 3, 4, 5 on the AP Spanish exam and earned college credit.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.