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Monday, April 22, 2019

Has the Texas Legislature dropped the ball on English learners? by Julie Chang

The answer to  Julie Chang's question posted in last Friday's Austin-American  Statesman is a resounding "yes," the Texas Legislature has indeed, yet again, dropped the ball on English learners, ninety percent of whom are native Spanish speakers, and mostly Mexican American.  Then we wonder why they fare so poorly academically when, in fact, this outcome is an artifact of  educational policy.  

This is not an argument for or against dual language education, but rather an argument for equity and how the needs and desires of mostly Anglo parents are pitted against the needs of the state's Spanish-speaking children for whom many of us have been advocating in this specific regard forever and a day.

This piece immediately brought to mind Dr. Guadalupe Valdes' prescient piece published 22 years ago in the Harvard Education Review titled, "Dual-Language Immersion Programs: A Cautionary Note Concerning the Education of Language-Minority Students."  It basically predicted what is happening right now in the Texas State Legislature


I agree with Fatima Menéndez of MALDEF that it is not only "shocking that bilingual education continues to be neglected,” but also that our state is willing in this so-called "landmark  legislation" to literally sacrifice the majority of our mostly Mexican-origin English learners in the process.  When one considers that these children amount to 20 percent of all Texas  students and that what is being requested is not an enrichment program but rather that these children's right to bilingual education teachers and thusly, to instruction in a language that is comprehensible, willful institutionalized discrimination and neglect are inescapably at play.

I encourage you to read this peer-reviewed policy brief by UT Education Policy and Planning doctoral students, Chloe Sikes and Will Davies, titled, "Building Equity in Bilingual Education School Finance Reform in Texas: Context and Importance of the Problemwho make a strong case for equitable bilingual education funding.

At the very least, Texas policy makers, you can never say that you were never told...  In fact, we have been telling you for at least 15 years.

-Angela Valenzuela


Has the Texas Legislature dropped the ball on English learners?


Posted Apr 19, 2019 at 6:14 PMUpdated Apr 19, 2019 at 7:22 PM
   
Although it is considered a landmark piece of legislation that would make several necessary updates to the state’s school finance system, House Bill 3 would not increase funding for hundreds of thousands of non-native English speaking students, according to bilingual education advocates.
HB 3, which as originally filed would spend $6 billion in classrooms and $3 billion on property tax relief over the next two years, does not change the 10% extra funding school districts currently receive for each of their English language learners. The state hasn’t changed the 10% bilingual funding weight since 1984.
Instead, the bill would give another 5% for English learners who are in dual language programs, which provide instruction in English and a student’s native language. As celebrated as dual language is, only about 20% of the state’s 1 million English learners are in dual language programs, according to the San Antonio-based Intercultural Development Research Center, citing Texas Education Agency data. And, given a statewide shortage of bilingual teachers, dual language can be difficult to implement effectively.
Critics of how HB 3 addresses bilingual education say that instead of giving a modest funding bump for dual language, the bilingual funding weight should have been increased.
“Dual language is great, but when we’re leaving the majority behind, and it’s such a significant portion of the Texas public school population, that’s certainly very concerning,” said Morgan Craven with the San Antonio-based Intercultural Development Research Center, which has for at least 15 years asked the state for an update to the bilingual funding weight.
State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, author of HB 3, which still awaits Senate approval, said the goal is to provide an incentive for school districts with the extra funding to adopt a program proven to be most effective in educating English learners.
“We know (English learners) are important, and we found that dual language, if we implemented at an earlier age, made a huge difference,” Huberty told the American-Statesman. “Somebody is not going to like 100% of everything we did. We tried to manage what we could, and I think this is a good landing place for us.”
Creating the dual language incentive is expected to cost the state as much as $50 million in the first year.
The bill would also give districts an additional 10% funding per English learner in kindergarten through third grade on top of the 10% bilingual weight, but the extra money is not required to be used to implement bilingual education or English as a second language programs.
Insufficient funding
One in five Texas students is an English language learner. Ninety percent of them are native Spanish speakers.
The annual cost of the bilingual weight, which is the primary way school districts receive funding to educate their English learners, is $570 million. This helps maintain three categories of education programs for such students — ESL programs, transitional bilingual programs and dual language programs.
The Texas Commission on School Finance last year had recommended the Legislature create the dual language weight, citing in its report that it reviewed “compelling data” that showed dual language is more effective than the other two programs.
ESL, which totally immerses non-English speakers in English classes with the help of a certified ESL teacher, is still the most common education program for many school districts — 58 percent of all English learners are in ESL, according to Craven’s group — and the least effective of the three, according to policy experts. ESL programs don’t require the teacher to speak the students’ native language.
Students in transitional bilingual programs are taught in both English and the native language with the goal of becoming fluent in English but not necessarily in their native language.
Dual language is considered a true bilingual program among experts because the goal is to have students be fluent and learn grade level content in both English and their native language.
Dual language classes can also be taught with native English speakers and non-native English speakers in the same classroom; they learn alongside and often support each other in obtaining proficiency in both languages. These programs are called two-way dual language.
One of the criticisms of the proposed dual language funding is that native English speakers would also qualify for more money. Instead of creating a dual language weight, HB 3 should have increased the overall bilingual weight from 10% to at least 40%, which was what was recommended to Texas lawmakers in 1984 and ignored, said Fátima Menéndez, legislative staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
“For it to be over 30 years and it hasn’t increased, especially since the number of English learners has increased dramatically, it’s shocking that bilingual education continues to be neglected,” Menéndez said.
There are 54% more English learners in Texas schools in 2018 than there were in 2004, according to the Texas Education Agency.
Menéndez and Craven said because dual language is the most effective bilingual program, the state should require it instead of encouraging it and increase the bilingual weight to pay for it.
Dual language or transitional bilingual programs aren’t required to be offered in Texas middle and high schools. The focus of these bilingual programs has been on earlier grade levels because the younger children are, the better they are at developing a new language.
Plus, there is a statewide shortage of certified bilingual and ESL teachers.
The number of school districts that have received waivers from the state from employing such certified teachers has grown steadily over the years. This school year, 567 of the state’s 1,200 districts were granted such waivers, a 38% jump from the year before.
Providing incentives for bilingual teachers is among the costly challenges of implementing dual language, according to advocates.
“The challenges of dual language programs are actually pretty costly, so a 0.05 per student increase in the weight — it’s not even clear that that would cover the cost to implement the program,” Craven said.
Dual language benefit
The school finance commission’s report from last year acknowledged the need for more investment in English learners because they lag behind the overall student body on multiple measures. The graduation rate among English learners in Texas is 19 percentage points lower than the overall state average. According to 2017-18 data, 35% of third grade English learners met grade level on the state’s reading standardized test, compared with 43% of all Texas third graders.
Cited widely among academics, a 2002 study by George Mason University researchers found that English learners in dual language programs outperform their English learning peers on standardized tests. The study also found that English learners who had been in dual language programs for at least six years scored higher than the average native English speaker.
“Being bilingual is like going to the gym, where you develop your muscles. Being bilingual develops your brain. Now, that doesn’t mean that ESL students are not successful. The children may be very successful. They just may lose their first language,” said Gema Hanson, director of multilingual education in the Pflugerville school district.
The Pflugerville district, which has an enrollment of about 25,000, has 2,200 English learners and native English speaking students in dual language programs, which are offered up to the fifth grade.
Based on 2018 state standardized test scores, the Austin school district’s English learners who are in dual language performed about the same as the overall English learning population on most grade levels and subjects. Native English speakers in dual language typically did better than overall students at their grade level on those tests.
David Kauffman, executive director of multilingual education for the Austin district, said the data is imperfect and that the numbers need to be adjusted to control for factors like the overall socioeconomics of the campus, parental involvement or a flooding event that could push scores one way or another.
He also notes that the district is in a transition period with its program, which has been offered to students for the past nine years. At one point, the district had implemented the program at most of its 129 campuses. The district reevaluated its programs a few years ago, and now 57 campuses offer dual language.
“It allowed us to recommit to implementing it well at all campuses, and over time we hope the resources will materialize and our commitment will extend. We want people begging for the program,” Kauffman said.
The Austin district offers dual language up to the eighth grade, with almost 9,000 English learners and 1,800 native English speakers participating. Typically, half of the subjects are taught in English and the other half are taught in another language. In Austin, those are Spanish, Vietnamese and Mandarin.
On a recent visit to the kindergarten Mandarin dual language class at Central Austin’s Reilly Elementary School, children immediately greeted visitors with “ni hao, shu shu! Ni hao, ayi!” which translates to “hello, uncle” and “hello, aunty.”
In a nearby first grade two-way Spanish dual language class, students were scribbling down in Venn diagrams similarities and differences they have with their classmates. “Fiona tiene ojos azul,” 7-year-old John Sierra wrote about his partner Fiona Elkins’ blue eyes.
“That’s why native Spanish speakers are crucial to the success of this program,” Reilly Principal Corrine Saenz said about two-way dual language programs. “They truly become the models of that language, which is such a different way of approaching bilingual education than we always have.”
Dual language advocates have noted that such programs are a departure from the historical way that English learners have been taught, which has devalued their native language and culture.
“We are showing them their language and culture matters,” Kauffman said.


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