Archive for June, 2009

Access Denied: Lack of Spanish Materials in Bilingual Programs

textbooksI remember the horrid days when teachers in bilingual programs had to make all of their own teaching materials in Spanish. I also remember the days when many of the materials available in Spanish were translated in Spain with vocabulary that many Spanish-speaking students in the United States were unaccustomed to hearing. At one point a number of years ago Spanish materials were readily available and easy to find. 

It seems that lately we have taken a few steps back regarding the accessibility of materials in Spanish. The math curriculum was recently adopted in many California school districts well over a year ago, yet the curriculum in Spanish was “not ready”. I work in one of the top-five largest districts in the state of California, and we were told by the MacMillan-McGraw Hill publishing company that the materials in Spanish were not ready because the California Department of Education did not have a person who could review the Spanish materials. 

Months and months passed and the publisher continued to blame the Department of Education for the lack of Spanish materials. The English math materials arrived, albeit with DRASTIC mistakes and errors throughout the teacher’s editions, student editions and student workbooks. (One would think that such a large publisher who is making millions and billions of dollars would be able to send out quality materials to the schools, right?).

Approximately nine months after the English materials arrived and had been used by teachers in English programs, I was tired of our students being treated as second class citizens. We had already gone through this same type of situation the year before with Scott Foresman with our Science curriculum; it took almost two years to have the Science Spanish materials delivered to our bilingual classrooms. I decided that I was going to take the matter into my own hands and investigate a little further.

I personally called the Department of Education and spoke with the coordinator who is responsible for state-adopted materials. I informed her that the publisher had mentioned that the materials in Spanish were not state-approved because the Department of Education did not have any Spanish reviewers available. The coordinator clarified that there were plenty of reviewers that they contract with who would be able to review the materials, but the publisher had not submitted their materials for final review. She informed me that four months ago she had sent the publisher a memo that certain changes needed to be made to their Spanish version of the math curriculum, yet the publisher had failed to submit the changes for review as of the date of our conversation.

We immediately called our sales representative and the vice president of the company, because we had initially adopted the materials in the first place because they told us that they had a parallel curriculum in Spanish. The vice president claimed that she knew nothing about additional reviews that needed to be made to the curriculum and submitted to the Department for approval. At the time their Language Arts curriculum was in the process of review and adoption within the district, and the company realized that they had a lot to lose if they did not immediately rectify the situation. The materials were immediately submitted for review to the California Department of Education and were quickly approved as state-adopted materials. 

It’s NOT okay that for over one year students in bilingual programs did not have access to state adopted math materials. It was also NOT okay that the year before they were denied access to state-adopted Science materials in Spanish. 

What is the moral of the story? Don’t listen to a word the publishers say when it comes to materials in Spanish. Don’t adopt any materials until you have confirmed that their materials are ready and have been approved by the state board of education. Hold the publishers accountable if they do not have parallel curriculums in both languages. Write letters to the presidents and vice presidents of publishing companies if they do not provide materials in Spanish. The publishing companies have a lot of power to determine the curriculum that is being implemented in our classrooms, and we have a lot of power to hold them accountable to meeting the unique needs of our students.

Even if it means that we have to twist their arms and drag them through the mud to make the materials readily available in Spanish, so be it. Our children in bilingual programs deserve it.

Categories: Bilingual Education

Bilingual Education Quote of the Week

RonaldReagan2I’ve decided that each week I am going to dig into all of my books and articles and post a quote of the week about bilingual education. Some of the quotes will be positive, and some of the quotes will be negative. Ronald Reagan was quoted in the New York Times on March 3, 1981 as having said:

It is absolutely wrong and against the American concept to have a bilingual education program that is now openly, admittedly, dedicated to preserving their native language and never getting them adequate in English so they can go out into the job market.

The American concept? “Getting them adequate in English”? Hahaha. Am I the only person who sees the irony in Reagan’s statement? He’s got a lot of nerve criticizing bilingual education programs for not developing proficiency in English when he is unable to even articulate a basic sentence himself!

Categories: Bilingual Education

Bilingual Ed Saboteurs Need Not Apply

7470615_550x550_mb_art_R0Lately I’ve been thinking about something that has plagued the bilingual education community for years–teachers who are teaching in bilingual programs, yet don’t really want to be a bilingual teacher. Over the years as an educator in the field of bilingual education, I often come into contact with people who didn’t initially apply for a position as a bilingual teacher yet were placed in a bilingual program because they spoke Spanish. This is problematic to the bilingual education community on so many levels. Teachers who don’t believe in bilingual programs undermine efforts to implement quality bilingual programs, which may have negative implications to the area of policy and research in the field of bilingual education. 

I’ve long said that if a teacher doesn’t believe in bilingual education, then he or she will therefore make it fail. Both conscious and subconscious undermining of quality bilingual education programs has always occurred at the hands of administrators and community members who don’t believe in our programs. However, the fact that many bilingual teachers themselves undermine their very own programs is rarely discussed. We rarely challenge bilingual teachers who have limited proficiency in the target language, limited proficiency in English, who hold a deficit perspective of the children, who don’t make it a priority to receive their bilingual teaching authorization, or who deep in their heart value English over Spanish and/or secretly believe that the answer to all of their students’ problems is to insert more English into the bilingual programs.  I once had a training with a group of bilingual teachers and I asked them to get into groups and discuss the following questions:

  • Why did you decide to become a bilingual teacher? 
  • Why are you a bilingual teacher; that is, why do you choose to continue to teach in a bilingual program rather than an English Mainstream program? 
  • What does being a bilingual educator mean to you?

A few teachers discussed that they became bilingual teachers because they personally had been students in English-only classes and felt that it was devastating to them that their language and culture was not valued in the classroom. This small group of teachers stated to the larger group that they became bilingual teachers in order to value the language and culture that their students brought with them to the classroom. A few teachers also discussed that they had attended bilingual programs as students and felt that the program was beneficial to them. Other teachers discussed the fact that they were immigrants to the United States and believed in the benefit of primary language instruction, being that their high levels of proficiency in Spanish greatly contributed to the acquisition of English. 

The majority of the teachers, though, expressed different motives for becoming a bilingual teacher. The majority of teachers explained that they were asked whether or not they were able to speak Spanish and were therefore placed in a bilingual program. A handful of teachers discussed that they were not even aware that they would be teaching in a bilingual program until they showed up at the school and were given the materials. A few teachers admitted that they did not want to be a bilingual teacher, but they nonetheless accepted the teaching position because they wanted to a job. When I asked the teachers why they continued to remain teachers, many of them explained that they learned more about bilingual education over the years and they wanted to remain bilingual teachers out of a passion to provide primary language instruction.

A group of teachers, five to be exact, bluntly stated that they continued to teach in a bilingual classroom because the students were “more manageable” than many English-speaking students in English Mainstream classrooms. Two teachers stated that they thought that the ideal teaching position would be to teach in a structured English immersion (SEI) setting, a program consisting primarily of English learners with minimal proficiency in English. These two teachers sadly lamented that there was so such program at their particular school site and that therefore in lieu of transferring to another school they continued to teach in the bilingual program.

Over the years I have frequently heard comments from some bilingual teachers who are teaching in low-socioeconomic schools that they continue to remain as teachers in a bilingual program because they don’t want to have to “deal with” students’ behavior problems in an English class. These types of comments just make my skin crawl and practically want to make me whip out my claws. It has been my experience that these types of comments are heard primarily from teachers in transitional bilingual education programs as opposed to Dual Immersion programs. I also tend to hear these types of comments from newer transitional bilingual education teachers (i.e., teaching ten years or less) as opposed to veteran bilingual teachers or pre-Prop 227 teachers.

Please do the bilingual education community a favor and refrain from teaching in a bilingual program if you really don’t believe in the value of bilingual education. Please don’t use innocent kids as pawns in your little game to wiggle out of teaching in an English classroom. If you don’t have the passion and corazón for bilingual education, then you don’t belong in a bilingual program.

Is Bilingual Education Against the Law in California?

QuestionMarksSometimes when I am training teachers in California, I am often asked, “Isn’t bilingual education against the law?”  In a nutshell, NO, bilingual education is not against the law in California. In fact, there are many transitional bilingual education programs and dual immersion/dual language programs throughout the state. There aren’t enough in my opinion, but they still exist.

In 1998, California voters voted to enact Proposition 227, the “English for the Children” ballot initiative which was designed to restrict bilingual education programs in the state of California. Although Prop 227 resulted in a devastatingly large decrease in bilingual education programs, it did not fully eliminate bilingual programs. The law stipulated that parents of English learners sign a parental exception waiver if they want their child to participate in a bilingual education program.

As a result of Prop 227, English learners with “less than reasonable fluency in English” should first be placed in a structured English immersion (SEI) program, a specialized program designed to theoretically rapidly increase students’ English proficiency before they are placed in an English Mainstream program. If parents want their children to participate in an alternative course of study program (i.e., bilingual education), parents must sign a parental exception waiver which requests placement in a bilingual education program.

California education code stipulates that parents must be given a full consultation of the educational programs in the district and must visit the school in order to apply for the parental exception waiver. In the event that 20 or more students at the same grade level apply for a waiver to participate in an alternative course of study program (i.e., bilingual program), a program must be provided at the school or parents must be offered the opportunity to send their child to a school where such a program exists. In many districts, parents are not knowledgeable about their right to sign a parental exception waiver because school officials withhold such information from them and therefore do not offer any types of bilingual education programs.

School officials may grant parental exception waivers if they determine that a bilingual education program is educationally advantageous for students. The following scenarios would stipulate the granting of a waiver: 1) the child is already proficient in English; 2) the child is older than 10 years of age; and, 3) the child has special physical, emotional, psychological or educational needs that would be better served in bilingual education setting. Parents have the right at any time to choose to exit their child out of a bilingual program.

Although the California education code stipulates that alternative courses of study may be offered in order to meet the specialized needs of English learners, the law does not delineate the specific types of bilingual programs that each school district may offer. Some school districts may offer transitional bilingual programs, where students are provided primary language instruction in the primary grades and are subsequently transitioned into instruction provided overwhelmingly in English. Other districts may offer dual immersion programs, a form of developmental maintenance bilingual program where students learn English as they continue to develop and maintain their primary language.

It’s imperative that as educators we inform parents about their rights to request a parental exception waiver in order for their child to participate in a bilingual education program. As educators who support bilingual education programs, we must also take the initiative in advancing to administrative positions and/or governing school board positions within local school districts in order to provide parents of English learners with accurate information regarding their educational rights.

Please feel free to contact me by leaving a comment here if you would like to personally discuss how you can best increase the advocacy of parents in your local school districts in order to increase the accurate information regarding bilingual programs in your school district.

About the Author: Melanie McGrath is a bilingual education fanatic. She passionately thinks, lives and dreams about multilingual education every waking and sleeping moment of her life. Seriously. Melanie is an administrator of bilingual education programs, and considers herself to be an advocate for students, parents, teachers, and others in the struggle for quality bilingual education programs.  As founder of Multilingual Mania, she’s doing all that she can to help create a multilingual and non-racist society one day at a time.

New Film: Immersion

The new short film “Immersion” is up on youtube. Oh, my poor little heart is breaking for the poor student who doesn’t know English. This is so realistic in that teachers sometimes think that after Prop 227 (i.e., anti-bilingual education initiative in California) teachers aren’t aloud to provide any primary language instruction. It’s also really unfortunate that even the Spanish-speaking teacher didn’t want to help the student; believe me, I’ve seen my share of too many Spanish-speaking teachers not helping English learners. Here is the video:

P.S. Why the hell couldn’t the kid use the Spanish-English dictionary?? It’s not like he’s taking the SAT test or something. It’s so demoralizing that assessments are being used in such a high-stakes manner.

Another Film on Bilingual Education

A while back a producer left a comment on the blog about a documentary called “Speaking in Tongues” regarding bilingual education that they had recently produced. I contacted the producer and asked how I could purchase a copy of the documentary so that I could blog about it, or how I could purchase a copy of the documentary in order to hold a screening in Southern California. The producer told me that it won’t be available for purchase until August. Thank you, good bye. (I’ll bite my tongue about the fact of spamming multiple blogs about the documentary and then not making it available to the people whom you spammed so that they can write about it). In the spirit of solidarity with the philosophy of bilingual education, I will wait patiently until August.

One of my colleagues just told me about another short film about the education of language minority students. It is called “Immersion” and it was also filmed in San Francisco (like “Speaking in Tongues”. My colleague told me that she heard a rumor that the film would be posted on youtube on June 5th, but I can’t seem to find it so maybe it’s just a rumor that we heard. Nonetheless, their website has a little intro video as to why they made the short film about a child named Moises who same to the United States and was placed in an all English structured English immersion program. If the rumor that the short film will be uploaded to youtube proves to be true, I’ll post an update.

In the meantime, you can find the introduction video to “Immersion” here.