At one point in the late spring when Mike Miles was making the rounds of DISD, he was asked a general question about the large number of bilingual and ESL students that attend school here. Rather than comment on how he might want to strengthen the Dual Language program or review the ESL program or say anything substantive about the needs of limited English proficient (LEP) students, he bizarrely responded that he was learning Spanish through a computerized course – as if to say that the host of complex learning challenges faced by our thousands of LEP students could be simply addressed by hooking them all up to Rosetta Stone and forgetting about them!
Even stranger than Miles’s response was the lack of follow-up on the part of the press. By all indications, DMN and the rest were satisfied with his non-response. Unfortunately, this pattern of benign neglect has persisted over a number of administrations. Under Hinojosa, the number of Spanish-surnamed cronies increased, but the support for bilingual and ESL instruction languished. During much of his tenure the Multilingual Department had no leadership. Not only has implementation been inconsistent, but the very programs have changed drastically every few years: traditional bilingual, modified bilingual, Dual Language. By the way, in order to be successful, Dual Language programs are supposed to be implemented for all students. True to form, DISD uses it only for LEP students.
Then there are the curricula. The Journeys English Language Arts curriculum is very challenging even for native English speakers. Elementary bilingual students are expected to cover the same amount of Journeys curriculum in two days that their native-speaking counterparts do in five! On the other three days of the week they are to master the equally challenging Senderos Spanish Language Arts curriculum. In a classic example of “spray and pray,” bilingual teachers are told to cover as many as five separate and self-contained math programs in English: Reasoning Mind, Drops in the Bucket, Problem Solver, Calendar Math, as well as the adopted MacMillan curriculum. In stunning disregard for basic language acquisition, Math instruction for monolingual Spanish kindergartners must be conducted in English with no translation allowed. Math, you should know, has a higher vocabulary loading than reading or science. No wonder, then, that LEP students have trouble with math problem solving well into elementary grades and beyond!
The bilingual and ESL teachers have been left to fend for themselves at the mercy of their principals, some of whom understand and support their mission, most of whom do not. Some elementary bilingual teachers have been told to conduct their classes only in Spanish in order to insure high scores on the Logramos test, then turn around and quickly, quickly push English so that the students might do well on English writing test. Forget sensible instruction for proper English and Spanish language acquisition.
It is important to acknowledge the effects of resentment and even bigotry on the part of some monolingual teachers and administrators. Many, like Miles, simply want to wish away the complex problems posed by LEP students. “Just teach them English! That’s what the Cubans, Vietnamese, [name your favorite immigrant group] did and look how well they have done!” Unfortunately, anecdotes aside, studies of immigrant communities going back over a century show that there are many linguistic losses suffered by first and second generation immigrants. Without targeted language support, especially in academic subjects, many simply fell between the cracks.
What we face in DISD is a ticking time bomb of poorly educated LEP students who are illiterate in both their home language and English. It is a terrible waste inflicted by the benign neglect of a succession of administrations. Added to our other difficulties, the impact of these students on our academic performance will be unnecessarily negative without serious, consistent remediation. Not all the problems with bilingual and ESL instruction have been touched on. With over 25% of DISD students designated as LEP and another substantial percentage “exited” from that designation, the front-line teachers who are certified in bilingual and ESL instruction should weigh in on potential solutions. Please give us your best thoughts on where we as a district stand and how we should proceed.
An excerpt from the Final Evaluation of the Dual Language, Transitional Bilingual Education and Esl Programs: 2011-12 (Rosemary Garcia-Rincón EA12-126-4):
“Based on the data presented in this report however, there is a concern with the implementation of the Dallas ISD Dual Language model (the Gomez and Gomez 50/50 Dual Language One- and Two-way instructional models). Each instructional component of the one- and two-way models is crucial to the success of the DL program, yet there seems to be lack of conformity to the appropriate implementation process of these models in varying degrees by campus.”