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School Reform and Bilingual Education

Today I attended a training and the topic of “school reform and improvement” was discussed. Someone made a comment that there are often divisions within schools–the special education teachers are doing one thing, English teachers are doing another thing, bilingual teachers something else, etc. The presenter mentioned that everyone in a particular school site should have a shared focus and common goals. She urged that there is consistency in what all the various teachers in different programs are doing. Certainly everyone in the training agreed as they were enthusiastically nodding their head up and down.

As I sat and looked around at the group, I realized that I was the only bilingual educator in the room. I was also the only person who might be considered an expert in the area of second language acquisition and the education of English learners. I thought to myself, “So this group of people is making recommendations to schools about school reform, yet some of our schools have bilingual programs and predominantly consist of English learner students? Are the needs of our bilingual programs and English learners being taken into consideration, or are we merely being forced to execute a plan that was designed primarily for native English-speakers?”

I agree that effective schools must have a shared and common focus, goals and philosophy between everyone in the school. Yet I can’t help but wonder whose voice is heard more loudly when determining the common focus, goals and plan of action, and whose voice may be silenced or ignored.

Bilingual programs cannot be effective if we are forced to try to fit and mold our bilingual program to accommodate the shared goals that have been established without taking into consideration the unique needs of bilingual programs. In fact, bilingual programs have always been forced to conform to the expectations that have been set for English-speaking monolingual students. If our bilingual programs are to be successful, we cannot mold, modify and change them to fit into a larger English-only system.

The following questions should be taken into consideration when determining whether your school reform efforts are meeting the needs of bilingual programs. If you are an administrator or teacher of a bilingual program, answering these questions truthfully will give you a good indicator as to whether your efforts are based on a bilingual or an “English-only” infrastructure. If you are a parent of a child in a bilingual program, make sure you ask the school administrator the following questions, and then hold them accountable for ensuring that these components are put into place at your school:

  • Do you have essential learning goals for each grade level? Are these goals set only in English? Are there bilingual goals of what students are expected to learn in both languages at each grade level for the bilingual programs?
  • When students are struggling, are interventions provided? Are the interventions provided only in English, or are interventions also provided in the target language of the bilingual program?
  • Are students assessed only in English? Does your site have quality assessments in both languages? Are assessment results in both languages used when determining the needs of students in bilingual programs, or is there an overemphasis on English assessment results?
  • Is there equity in the amount and quality of materials in both languages in the classroom and library?
  • If before or after school tutoring is provided, is it only offered in English? Or is tutoring also provided in the target language of the bilingual program?
  • Is there an administrator or program facilitator that is knowledgeable about the bilingual program?
  • Are bilingual teachers given professional development and training that is specific to the bilingual program, or do bilingual teachers attend the training that has been designed for teachers in English programs?
  • Do students receive special education or speech therapy services? Are the services provided in English or both languages?

If you said no to many of the previous questions, then sooner or later your bilingual program is bound to FAIL.

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Categories: Bilingual Education

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