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U-46 plans to expand dual language program


By Seth Hancock
  School District U-46 plans to expand its dual language program to high schools starting in the 2018-19 school year as the administration updated the Board of Education on Monday, Nov. 20.
  The plan is to implement it at all five high schools with a projection, based on current middle school numbers, of 731 total students in 2018-19 and 856 more students in 2019-20. Elgin High School is expected to have the most dual language students at 588 followed by Larkin (447), Streamwood (254), Bartlett (214) and South Elgin (84) by 2019-20.
  Annette Acevedo, director of English language learners programs, said a committee has been set up to look at curriculum. No estimated or expected costs were given.
  For those students in the Transitional Program of Instruction (TPL)/English as a Second Language (ESL) programs, which are for Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students not in dual language, the plan is to consolidate those programs into just Bartlett and South Elgin high schools.
  Despite one board member questioning the efficacy of the dual language program, the administration’s presentation focused on theory on the efficacy without any specific data to support its claims.
  The dual language program was started in the 2011-12 school year rolling up a grade level each year to it being at the middle school level now. U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said the first graduating class is coming up “to truly be bilingual and bi-literate and not have to lose their language, and then go out and find positions within our community, they will be unstoppable.”
  “We have chosen to continue on this path because we fundamentally believe to our very core that this is the logical next step for our dual language students as we move to provide them with a well-rounded, holistic education,” Acevedo said.
  The stated purpose of the dual language program when it was started was to promote bilingualism and bi-literacy, but instead of its academic value Acevedo said its value is on the social and emotional side calling it “equity work at its finest.”
  The administration said that there are studies that have shown that the achievement gap shrinks when more students can speak two languages, but is the dual language program helping those students learn a second language, specifically those who are Spanish speakers learning English which the program has primarily targeted since its inception?
  Board member Jeanette Ward said “I have no objections to learning other languages, like in the world language program” in Streamwood High School’s academy, but “I’ve heard from more than one person that the dual language program is mostly or entirely Spanish, and it seems like we are targeting mainly Spanish speakers with the program.”
  Ward asked: “My concern is that it prolongs dependence on Spanish, and if this program is successful then why have the percentage of limited English proficient students increased in our district from about 24 percent in 2014 to about 29 percent in 2017?”
  From the Illinois State Board of Education’s report card date, the percentage of students labeled as LEP has risen each year since the dual language program was implemented. That percentage was at 20 percent in 2009 to 29 percent today.
  The administration did not answer Ward’s concerns until board member Melissa Owens later asked how many students gained English proficiency but remained in the dual language program? Acevedo said “our retention rate is about 94 percent” but offered no data on how many students were LEP but became English proficient in the dual language program.
  Sanders said he didn’t “think” the percentage of LEP students rising was because of dual language students “not passing out and passing the access test, it’s actually just the students arriving in U-46 and the changing demographics of our region.”
  Despite the district having no data to show the value of the dual language program, Owens supports it because she said employers are looking for bilingual workers and her job “was probably the last one I saw that did not have a specific requirement to be bilingual or a bilingual would be a major consideration for employment.”
  Board member Sue Kerr asked: “Have we looked at our students at all to study the impact of dual language on academic achievement?”
  Acevedo said “we do, and we are continuing to work with the assessment office and looking at our data,” but did not have any data to present to the board that evening.
  Suzanne Johnson, deputy superintendent of instruction, said: “Many of our students and our data that we look at regularly should start to show how we’re addressing those gaps between their eighth grade and their senior year of high school.”
  The district has often touted its work on the dual language program and the administration asked for applause a couple times for the staff work, and board member Traci Ellis praised it saying: “Kudos again for some outstanding work. I am beyond proud of what we’re doing in this district to ensure that our students in this district aren’t living in a tiny bubble.”
  The presentation focused that rather than trying to assimilate Spanish-speaking students into American culture, the goal is preserving their culture from their home country and one of the goals is to “prepare students for global careers and global citizenship.”
  Ward said “there is no such thing as  a global citizenship” and quoted President Donald Trump who said: “There is no global anthem. No global currency. No certificate of global citizenship. We pledge allegiance to one flag and that flag is the American flag.”
  Along with Owens suggesting the need for bilingual workers, Ellis said she works in human resources (at another government-run school) and said the same.
  During public comments Rick Newton said that HR departments are more concerned with “knowledge, skills and abilities.”
  Ward said she works for a multi-national corporation and collaborates with people from around the world, citing countries from Asia, Europe and South America, and “we communicate in English.”
  Despite Ward clearly stating she has “no objections to learning other languages” and that she works with people from around the world, Kate Thommes spoke during public comments and projected completely opposite views onto Ward while also saying dual language does not need to be held accountable.
  “Frankly, I can’t believe that dual language parents have once again to prove to some of you that our program is valuable and worthwhile,” said Thommes who added she was “incredulous that I even have to explain this to someone.”
  “Some Americans seem to want to hide from the rest of the world which is ridiculous since the rest of the world is coming to us,” Thommes said. “They think that by forcing everyone to learn only in English, to step away from their culture and be American, that we will somehow gain an advantage or be better off.”

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