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Split U-46 vote elevates dual language program


By Seth Hancock
  The dual language program in School District U-46 will be expanding to the middle school level starting in the 2016-17 school year as the Board of Education approved a curriculum framework and resources costing $186,143.91 for seventh grade on Monday, May 2.
  The vote was 4-3 with Phil Costello, Cody Holt and Jeanette Ward all voting no.
  The program was started in the 2011-12 school year with instruction given 80 percent in Spanish and 20 percent in English starting at the pre-K level and eventually becoming 50-50 by third grade. Next year’s seventh-graders will only be one-way students, those whose native language is Spanish, and two-way, a combination of English- and Spanish-native speakers, the following year.
  According to the dual language page on the district’s website, there are currently 6,009 one-way students and 2,352 two-way students in the district. Five of eight middle schools will have dual language classrooms including Abbott, Ellis, Kimball, Larsen and Tefft.
  For Ward, her opposition is a fundamental disagreement.
  “I do not support prolonging dependence on any other language than English,” Ward said. “As confirmed by my questioning at the last board meeting, there is no extended dual language instruction in other world languages for immigrants from India, China, other parts of Asia or Europe.”
  Ward added: “Prolonging students’ dependence on the language of the country of origin hurts their chances for success here in America, and I want them to succeed.”
  When the proposal was presented on April 25, Ward questioned the difference between dual language and the other programs for non-English speaking students who have a native language other than Spanish.
  Pointing to a New York Post article, Ward said Asian immigrants are some of the highest achieving students and are not taught to be dependent on their native language.
  The goal of the English as a Second Language and Transitional Bilingual Education programs in U-46 “is to get them speaking English as quickly and as fluently as possible,” Ward said. “That ought to be our goal for all ethnic groups.”
  Board member Traci Ellis called Ward’s position ethnocentrism and arrogant.
  Ellis said: “I want to strongly reject the ethnocentrism premise that somehow our students aren’t successful if we honor their language of origin and instruct them, raise them to be… bicultural, bilingual, bi-literate and that we bring along English speaking students as well to graduate as bilingual and bi-literate. That is success, and it is an ethnocentric arrogance to suggest that students who are bicultural, bi-literate, bilingual cannot be successful.”
  Ward later retorted that “English is the language of business,” something she’s learned firsthand working for a multinational corporation.
  “If you go to France or live in France, they expect you to speak French,” Ward said. “If you live in Brazil, they expect you to speak Portuguese. If you live in Mexico, they expect you to speak Spanish. I don’t think that makes them ethnocentric. I think that makes them a country with borders and a culture.”
  Ellis later said that U-46 expects students to speak English by the time they graduate and Suzanne Johnson, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said that “the goals and the value of the [dual language] program are to support an instructional model so that students will be bicultural, bilingual and bi-literate.”
  However, is the dual language program in U-46 achieving that goal, or is it “prolonging students’ dependence” on their native language as Ward suggests?
  Ward said she has “it on good authority that at least one of our elementary schools, dual language instruction is entirely in Spanish.”
  The district provided no data from its program showing that it works making the statement of “bicultural, bilingual and bi-literate” outcomes only a statement, not reality.
  Board member Veronica Noland called U-46’s dual language program “a model across the country” and that “we see the value, we have the results, we know how important this program is and this is just a continuation of the process.”
  Noland said her children go to Channing Memorial Elementary School where dual language in the district was first implemented, and those dual language students “would get to seventh grade and we tried to hobble some kind of a Spanish class for them.”
  However, if dual language students at Channing were not English proficient and still needed Spanish-speaking programs by middle school, Noland’s comment appears to prove Ward’s contention correct.
  Costello asked: “How much are we actually spending on dual language, and who is funding it?”
  Johnson did not provide the cost of dual language but said “we can give you those specific numbers, but we look at very little variation between” dual language and general education. She said staffing costs are incurred by the district, but material costs are supported through Title III funds.
  What should be noted is Title III funds are still from the taxpayers through the federal government.
  Costello said: “If it’s an elective that they can do it, that’s one thing, but to the extent that we’re having to put so many resources into this I think it’s only going to hurt the other programs.”
  U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said that dual language becomes “an elective for the students who have exited our bilingual program” and that staffing standards are the same unless it’s a class of non-English proficient students where state law requires a lower student-teacher ratio. If dual language does prolong dependence, then it would increase expenses to the district through the staffing standards.
  Board member Sue Kerr supports the program and said: “I think that we want our children to succeed, and I’ve looked at the studies and they suggest that dual language in making children bilingual and bi-literate is probably one of the most effective ways of helping them succeed in closing the achievement gap.”
  At the April 25 meeting, U-46 officials said the district’s demographics are 52 percent Latino with 50 percent Spanish-native speakers. The administration also cited studies that make lofty claims that dual language programs are the “only” programs that close the achievement gap.
  Annette Acevedo, director of English Language Learners program, said: “That course focuses on literacy skill development through literature including fiction and non-fiction, composition, grammar concepts, vocabulary study, communication and research skills through the theme people, places and environments.”

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