Thursday, July 31, 2008

Alonzo: Bilingual Education Task Force now needed

By Roberto Alonzo
Rio Grande Guardian
July 31, 2008

AUSTIN, July 31 - One of the most comprehensive legal decisions in education history has just been issued by U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice.

It concerns the civil rights of English language learners (ELL), a ruling which finds that Texas is failing to overcome language barriers in educating an estimated 140,000 Latino students in our secondary public schools.

I think it is imperative that both the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) and the Senate Hispanic Caucus (SHC) join forces and get prepared for what promises to be an interesting appeals process by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to overturn this decision.

While we must applaud Judge Justice for reversing his own decision of over a year ago (July 2007), not surprisingly TEA has already made it public that it will ask the Attorney General's Office to appeal the latest Justice ruling.

As such, I think it is critically important that members of the Legislature, particularly representatives of both the MALC and SHC, be well-prepared, educated on the issue, and well-versed on the statistical data to help support and keep Judge Justice's decision intact.

As chairmen of the two major Latino caucuses in the Legislature, I therefore appeal to you to jointly form some type of Bilingual Education Task Force to closely monitor the development of this important ruling and issue a report to all members when we convene for the 81st Regular Session in January 2009.

According to the 95-page court decision, the State of Texas, specifically TEA, has been given a deadline of January 2009 to address the issues of ineffective monitoring and poor ESL programs for secondary students, low test scores, high dropout rates among Latinos, graduation rates, and other educational flaws that violate the civil rights of ELL students.

If past history is any indication, there is no doubt that TEA will once again continue to use the same excuse as before by saying that they are "already addressing the issue," when in reality, we know that is not the case as the picture for ELL learners in Texas continues to look dismal. That seems to be a typical TEA response anytime a ruling like this is issued by a court.

However, keep in mind also that numbers and statistics do not lie. Most of the numbers and other verifiable data cited by Judge Justice in his court ruling come directly from TEA, and most of the accumulative historical records clearly show that our state-approved language programs for ELL students have not improved the performance of secondary students with limited English skills. And that is the bottom line - plain and simple.

If the state of Texas is to do an adequate job of closing that gap and have a skilled, educated workforce for future generations, we must take action now. And while Judge Justice's decision is a welcome invitation to action now, as well as a major wake-up call for all state and local policymakers, I am certain that the formation of a Bilingual Education Task Force made up of members from both the MALC and SHC is well in order right now, especially since the court's decision deadline of January 2009 will fall immediately after the start of the 81st Regular Session.

Roberto Alonzo is state representative for District 104, in Dallas. A Democrat, Alonzo co-chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus’s task force on higher education. The above column is based upon a letter Alonzo sent July 29, 2008, to the state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, and state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, chair of the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus.

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