Thursday, February 09, 2006

My Reflections on today's SBOE Hearing on Bilingual Education...

Today, February 9th, a hearing on bilingual education was held at the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE). The basis for this hearing was Board Member Gail Lowe's interest in learning about a program involving Structured English immersion in California, according to a Lexington Institute paper titled 'Immersion Not Submersion: Converting English Learner Programs from Bilingual Education to Structured English Immersion.' This is a non-peer reviewed study and very weak [See for yourself, click here for a PDF file].

In my own testimony today, I noted that the researcher, Kelly Torrance, opens with a narrow metaphor to describe the present state of bilingual education: DEATH. I expressed how this represents a deficient and biased understanding of bilingual education throughout the United States, and especially in Texas. She indirectly equates 'LIFE' with structured English immersion programs and conversely, by implication, death with bilingual education programs. Contradictory to this there exist a multiplicity of program models that adjust for students’ needs and local contextual factors. These include such varying program models as transitional bilingual education (with great variance among these as well); developmental models, dual language immersion models, etc.) I'll address another major point shortly, but let me share the following:

There was a full day of testimony. We were honored to have Professors Stephen Krashen from USC and Elena Izquierdo from UT, El Paso who followed the presenters brought by the SBOE to talk about structured English immersion. The first speaker was an associate superintendent from Oceanside and the second was from the Lexington Institute. Neither suggested very strongly that this approach to the exclusion of others should be used, but rather that it was important to provide an example of what presumably 'works'/'worked' in Oceanside as well as in another district near Merced, I believe. What's important here is that this should be interpreted in terms of what has worked in a context of austere denial and absence of bilingual education forged by California's anti-bilingual initiative, Prop. 227, passed in 1998.

So it was curious to think that that which was forged under severely anemic conditions for addressing the diverse needs of English language learners as a response to policy (i.e., structured English immersion) should inform the basis for Texas education policy. Note: The SBOE cannot change the law, but it can send a signal to the legislature and the public, in general, the untruth that bilingual education is about jobs and special interest groups rather than the truth that bilingualism has always been the gem of the upper class in our society and that in Texas, it represents the outcome of literally decades in the struggle for educational equity (click here for a legislative history in Texas).

Ok, it's been a long day so I’ll share another point I made (also in written testimony). I referred to the 'Texas Successful Schools Study: Quality Education for Limited English Proficient Students'--which demonstrates that Texas English Language Learners are outperforming other students who are 'submerged' in structured English immersion programs like those found in California [click here for a pdf file]. This study, published in 2000 as part of the Commissioner Mike Moses' Educational Research Initiative was conducted by the Texas Education Agency in cooperation with Texas and A & M University, Corpus Christi. With words like 'measured,' 'dispassionate,' and 'scholarly,' the Texas Successful Schools Study received high marks in READ Perspectives. Incidentally, this journal is a READ Institute publication that comes out of Linda Chavez' Center for Equal Educational Opportunity. I commented how this begs the question of why this credible research is submerged while a much lower quality and less comprehensive study is given the light of day (Correiro 2001 [pdf]). I thought, why wouldn't the SBOE or Texas Education Agency make use of results from a project that I understand cost at least $450,000.00 worth of taxpayer’s money and which is eminently more thorough and comprehensive than the Lexington Institute Study? There was no answer to this by state board members, but I thought it important to raise this point.

Although the audience was mixed, a statewide audience of the Latino community was present. State Board members Mary Helen Berlanga and Joe Bernal were tried and true! This was all very encouraging. I imagine that we'll later see how all of this connects up to legislative designs in the special session on school finance that will of necessity have to take a look at bilingual education funding. -Angela

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