A year after adopting what may have been the first school district policy requiring some principals to speak Spanish, the Dallas school board has decided to loosen the requirement.
After rejecting one board member’s proposal to scrap the Spanish-language requirement completely, the panel instead voted 6-2 on Oct. 26 for a compromise proposal that allows for other elementary school staff members, such as an assistant principal or a counselor, to count as a school’s bilingual administrator.
“It’s a reasonable adjustment,” said Harley Eckhart, the associate executive director of the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association, a group that opposed the original policy passed in August 2005. (“Some Dallas Principals Must Learn Spanish,” Sept. 7, 2005.)
“From our perspective, it’s really all about the quality of instructional leadership in a principal,” he said. “We think anything that would preclude somebody who is a very good instructional leader from remaining a principal or becoming one is not good for student academic achievement.”
The original rule, approved by a divided school board, called for principals in elementary schools to become proficient in Spanish by 2008. The requirement applied to Dallas elementary schools where at least half the children are English-language learners, or roughly 50 campuses in the 235-school district.
Its passage—said by proponents to be critical for increasing the involvement of Hispanic parents—sparked a fierce debate that was at times racially charged. Some felt that non-Hispanic administrators would be unfairly disadvantaged by the rule.
More than 65 percent of the district’s 160,000 students are Hispanic, and 30 percent are English-language learners.
Carla Ranger, a school board member who was elected after the original policy was approved, agreed. She introduced last month’s proposal to overturn the policy.
“There just is no logic to it, not from a student-achievement standpoint and, really, not from a parental-involvement standpoint either,” Ms. Ranger said last week in an interview.
Ms. Ranger cited a study that examined whether bilingual principals had a positive impact on achievement at schools with large numbers of English-language learners and found that they did not. She also said she surveyed roughly 40 other school districts in Texas and found that none of them had a bilingual requirement for principals.
“I thought this was unfair and could cause us to lose out on some very good principals,” she said. “I also found that out of our 235 schools in the Dallas Independent School District, only eight or so lacked staff members who are bilingual.”
Ms. Ranger added that the policy seemed to disregard the roughly 60 languages other than Spanish that are spoken by students in the Dallas schools.
“What about respect for them?” she said.
But the school board balked at completely reversing the language requirement and supported the proposal offered as a compromise by board member Nancy Bingham instead.
Superintendent Michael Hinojosa told board members that school administrators should be able to communicate with parents, but he said it also was important for the district to have the flexibility to hire the best principals possible.
As they had been originally, racial divisions were prominent during last month’s school board debate. One speaker, an African-American woman, told the panel that to require Spanish fluency from any school administrator was “evil to the black race.”
The original policy to require Spanish-speaking principals was championed by Joe May, a board member who died earlier this year.
This article includes reporting by the Associated Press.
A version of this article appeared in the November 08, 2006 edition of Education Week as Dallas Drops Language Rule for Principals