Sunday, March 30, 2008

Texas education board agrees to more Hispanic input

By Brandi Grissom
El Paso Times

AUSTIN -- Texas education leaders developing new English and reading standards acquiesced Thursday to pressure from teachers and lawmakers, allowing for more Hispanic input.

"I'm pleased that there was a compromise and that they just didn't shutout the Hispanic expertise," said Rene Nuñez, State Board of Education member from El Paso.

The State Board of Education spent hours discussing a new reading and English curriculum that will be in place for the next decade, defining test standards and the contents of textbooks. Educators and lawmakers had criticized the proposed curriculum, saying it was too prescriptive and ignored Hispanic students' needs.

Board Chairman Don McLeroy said last week there was no time to make major changes to the curriculum because it needs to be adopted in time to have new textbooks for the 2009-2010 school year.

In a public hearing Wednesday, though, the board heard impassioned pleas for more input on the curriculum from bilingual educators and from experts with knowledge about how Hispanic students learn.

"If we're not meeting the needs of those individual children, especially our English language learners, they are at a tremendous disadvantage," said Paul Haupt, state coordinator for the El Paso, Texas and International reading associations and a consultant for Socorro Independent School District.

Teachers also objected to a reading list, which they said removed flexibility, especially to choose books that would help students learning to read in English.

Statewide, nearly half of the 4.6 million students in public schools in the 2007-2008 school year were Hispanic, according to the Texas Education Agency.

Eighty-nine percent of El Paso County's 173,000 students were Hispanic.

Board member Geraldine Miller said she was hurt that some believed the board was intentionally excluding Hispanic students.

"We do not ever want to disenfranchise these children," Miller said.

The board unanimously agreed to eliminate the reading list and to consider input from Hispanic teachers and two experts, including Elena Izquierdo, University of Texas at El Paso bilingual education professor and president of the Texas Association for Bilingual Education.

The board will meet in May to take a final vote on the revised English and reading standards.

"We have to do what's right here," Izquierdo said. "It's important to our kids in school; it's important to teachers."

Brandi Grissom can be reached at; (512) 479-6606.

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