COREY MITCHELL: Miami-Dade Postpones Proposed Changes to Foreign Language Instruction

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Education Week, 05-28-2015

Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the Miami Herald that he will postpone scheduled changes to the way the district teaches foreign languages.

Amid growing criticism of his plan, the superintendent will convene a task force to work on proposals that could roll out during the 2016-17 school year.

Under Carvalho’s proposed plan, students would not receive bilingual instruction unless they’re in intensive language immersion programs with instruction in subjects such as math, science, and social studies split between English and another language.

Once fully implemented, the school system’s “extended foreign language” program would bolster foreign language instruction by making it more intensive, but not available to all students.

The district has already begun to phase out daily 30-minute Spanish classes for kindergarten, 1st grade and 2nd grade students, a move that has drawn criticism from the NAACP, League of United Latin American Citizens, and other groups. The instruction for 3rd grade students would have been cut this fall.

Educators who would have been charged with executing the “extended foreign language” program also had objections.

A story by Miami Herald reporter Christian Veiga highlights the concerns of Spanish-language teachers. Many said that they would be forced to teach classes in Spanish in math or other subjects in which they are not certified. Veiga’s piece also reveals that Miami-Dade schools, based in a region with a sizable Spanish-speaking population, struggles to find qualified Spanish teachers.

Carvalho told the newspaper’s editorial board that parents’ demand for rigorous bilingual education for their children prompted the district to explore ways to overhaul how it teaches students a second language.

“This has never been about getting rid of bilingualism; it’s about improving the way we teach Spanish,” Mr. Carvalho said.

Now district officials are headed back to the drawing board.

Rosa Castro Feinberg, an English-language learner activist and former Miami-Dade school board member, said in an interview with Education Week that she applauds Carvalho “for his decision to upgrade Spanish programs with input from stakeholders and expert members of a task force.”

“He has shown wisdom … in thereby respecting his board members’ oft stated support for instruction leading to biliteracy. A fully transparent process for the task force will do much to allay the concerns of Miami-Dade communities,” she said.


Un comentario en “COREY MITCHELL: Miami-Dade Postpones Proposed Changes to Foreign Language Instruction


    According to district statements, the parents who complained that Spanish programs were not effective
    According to district statements, the parents who complained that Spanish programs were not effective were members of a budget advisory committee. We don’t know how many parents complained. We don’t know if their votes were secret or by show of hands. We don’t know the validity of their complaints. We don’t know their names or qualifications to opine on the topic. We don’t know how they were appointed or by whom. We don’ t know what rules of procedure they operated under. We were members of a budget advisory committee. We don’t know how many of the committee members depend on the school system for their salary or for their own or their family members’ promotion possibilities. We don’t know how it came about that a budget advisory committee provided advice on curriculum and instruction. We don’t know if evaluation reports on the Spanish program and on the EFL program were provided to or reviewed by the budget committee. We don’t even know if the committee members have children who were enrolled in the Spanish programs. And we don’t know to what extent, if any, the recommendations of the budget advisory group were vetted by other advisory organizations, by district bilingual education staff, by the PTA, the the Parent Leadership Council (parents of ESOL students), the Title I Advisory Group, the administrators’ associations, the Family and Community Involvement Advisory Committee, the Spanish teachers, the teachers’ union, the school advisory committees, the relevant professional organizations, or other established means for securing feedback on major district initiatives under consideration. Answers to these questions would make the process more transparent!

    4:42 PM on May 29, 2015
    Two myths have been circulated during the discussions on Spanish language instruction in Miami-Dade. The first is that language learning is only for the best students. The fact is that two-thirds of the children in the world are raised in bilingual environments. Further, bilingualism seems to confer enormous advantages on children from better attention and problem solving skills to more flexibility in their thinking. Earlier exposure to two languages seems to confer more advantages than a more sequenced approach. Findings from an EFL evaluation study conducted by M-DCPS document that students in the three lowest FCAT tiers significantly out preformed their counterparts not in the program. Therefore, opportunities for Spanish language education should be made available to all students, on an opt-out basis to remove barriers to participation while maintaining parental choice, and these opportunities should begin at the pre-school level. The second myth is that only some bilingual or World Language programs build student capacity for bilitieracy. In actuality,all of them do. There are differences in focus by grade level based on children’s developmental stages, but given enough time in continuous instruction (six years or more), Sp.S/Sp.SL, EFL, and BISO Schools all lead to the development of biliteracy skills. What’s true for the development of English language literacy is also true for development of biliteracy: A major component of early childhood education is language instruction because literacy instruction is based on oral language.
    Mari Corugedo

    5:24 PM on May 29, 2015
    The Task Force provides an opportunity to really get it right. Stakeholders, including critics of the current plan, local LULAC, NAACP, Haitian community, Anglo community, local businesses, parent groups, educators, and the community at large should be represented to help identify concerns, and to help engage and educate our communities on the importance and need for quality World Language programs. Local and national experts in second language and heritage language education are needed to bring findings from the latest pertinent research. Representatives from teacher training institutions are also needed to help formulate plans to solve persistent problems in finding qualified staff.
    Maria Paradelo Acosta

    11:43 AM on May 30, 2015
    As Fishman, Wong Fillmore, and other have noted, maintaining a heritage language is important for the well being, cohesion, and the vitality of families and communities. According to the Center for Applied Linguistics, heritage language speakers’ background knowledge and relationship with a community of speakers make their educational needs different from those of foreign language learners in terms of program goals, materials, and curriculum. Preparation needs are also different for teachers of heritage language programs. Those trained as foreign language teachers often find they are not equipped for the challenge posed by the wide range in language skills that heritage language speakers exhibit. Heritage language students include those who are fully fluent and literate, some who are fluent but have no literacy skills, some who have heard the language but have limited productive abilities, and still others who are fluent in a non-prestige variety of the language. The Task Force should address these challenges through plans for expanded inservice training, through cooperative ventures with teacher training institutions, and through requests to the state board of education for restoration of an Endorsement credential in bilingual education/dual language education. While these characteristics of heritage language education require targeted attention in separate heritage language classrooms, ultimate goals merge with those of second language programs: bilingualism leading to biliteracy.


    12:03 PM on May 30, 2015

    A hallmark of dual language instruction — see the work of Virginia Collier and Wayne Thomas — is not only that bilingual education is better than English Only, but that it’s better when all communities participate.
    In their work, we also see a shocking variable: that two-way bilingual programs (where native English speakers learn Spanish) are more successful than one-way programs where only Spanish speakers aim for bilingualism, as in our Extended Foreign Language program.
    In other words, we’re better off when at least two language communities participate.
    Notably, these dual language programs address content — science, social studies, math, and so on — in both languages.
    Coral Way back a half century ago was a version of the former.
    Extended Foreign Language is similar to the one-way model. Furthermore, it doesn’t necessarily account for differentiated curricular in-class lesson planning that allows for students of varying proficiency levels, a skill set for teachers that can be regularly addressed in effective foreign language education programs.
    Sure! It’s not easy, but doing so yields access to more students.
    As a result . . .
    Support is needed for implementation of Extended Foreign Language models that include two language as media of content instruction. Doing so justifies assigning to the same classroom students from more than one language group and that qualifies Extended Foreign Language programs as examples of dual language immersion.
    If administrators resist implementation of this model and qualified staff cannot be found, perhaps we’re better off carving out a 21st century version of Coral Way.
    Ed Council

    7:49 PM on May 30, 2015
    We don’t know the names of the elected school board members who voted to proceed with a phase out of Spanish programs that serve all students with its replacement by the problem-plagued EFL program that serves only a portion of those students. If these matters are secret aspects of the operation of the new task force, what public confidence will there be in their recommendations? The community deserves easy access to details of the appointment process, the rules of procedure, the names and bios of the members, their source of nomination, task force agendas and minutes, webcasts of the meetings, and board members’ related board items or position statements. Then and only then, can we say it is a transparent process!

    Vivian Bosque

    3:49 PM on June 1, 2015
    I would like to be part of the proposed task Force on Spanish instruction in Miami-Dade. At the present time I coordinate and teach at the Spanish Master Education Program, Nova Southeastern University. I have taught Spanish at all levels as well as university level ESOL and TESOL. I started the Spanish for heritage speakers program at the Alief School District in Houston. I was a writer for a Spanish AP textbook at Holt Rinehart and Winston, and for 9 years I served in the team that grades the AP exams. I regularly make presentations at organizations such as ACTFL, FFLA, SCOLT, and AERA. In 2011 I was selected as a visiting scholar at the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton, NJ, and last year I served as president of the Florida Foreign Language Association. It would be an honor to be a member of the task force.
    Myriam Met

    8:17 PM on June 1, 2015

    As a veteran world language teacher, district supervisor, and currently, program consultant to a number of school districts and state offices of education, I couldn’t help but be delighted by the serious consideration being given to the current status and future directions of the Extended Foreign Language (EFL) program in Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS). I was particularly impressed by the Superintendent’s commitment to ensure a high quality Spanish learning experience for the district’s students, the support of the school board for his attention to this issue, and the parental demands for a world language experience starting as early as possible. These valuable and important views of a range of stakeholders bode well for a positive outcome.

    As deep discussions begin to explore, then detail, what shape the new EFL program might take, it might be helpful to note that Dual Language Immersion (DLI) is perhaps the fastest growing program model of early language programming. DLI programs have a proven research base that demonstrates that students gain impressive levels of proficiency in both English and the immersion language while also meeting or exceeding academic outcomes as measured by standardized tests. For school districts, this welcome news is accompanied by budget figures that show that great results come at a much lower price tag than many other program options.

    In contrast with some of the options that have been under discussion in MDCPS, DLI programs all evidence two essential features: 1) the immersion language is used to teach academic content; 2) students spend no less than 50% of the school day immersed in learning academics through the medium of the target language.

    No state better represents the extraordinary growth of DLI than Utah, a state that has historically ranked low when it comes to per pupil funding. In 2008, the Governor of Utah, in tandem with the state legislature, began a world language initiative aimed at creating 100 new DLI programs by 2015. Gregg Roberts, a visionary of the first order, has led this initiative as the state’s world language supervisor. He has ensured widespread implementation of DLI so that programs are located in rural as well as urban and suburban areas, and that programs meet the learning needs of diverse student populations, including those with special needs.

    As a consultant to the Utah state office of education, I have been privileged be an integral part of the planning, implementation, and professional support for this initiative. The initiative has been so successful that the original plan to open 100 new programs has well exceeded that number, and public demand for more programs continues. In addition to the original offerings of French, Chinese, and Spanish DLI, there are now programs in German and Portuguese, with additional languages under consideration. About half of the Spanish DLI programs mix Spanish-speaking learners of English and native speakers of English; these students all spend half their school day learning through English and half through Spanish. Careful research conducted by the University of Utah has shown that the academic performance of students in Utah’s DLI programs mirrors the findings of previous studies of DLI: students meet or exceed academic expectations. In addition, data from face-to-face language proficiency assessments are showing that by second or third grade, most students have already met or surpassed the projected outcomes for their grade levels.

    As the MDCPS Task Force begins its exploration of how best to meet the need for all students to be bilingual and academically successful, there likely will be questions about human and financial resources. Providing Task Force members with input regarding the ways other states and districts solved these problems could be very helpful to the district and also valuable for state policy makers. As a consultant to Utah’s DLI initiative, as well as through my work with state-level initiatives in Georgia and Delaware, I know that these were issues that challenged policymakers. Yet, in each case, these challenges have been met effectively. Beyond these three states, in my work across the US with other DLI programs that range from infancy to maturity, I know that schools, districts, and states are also finding ways to create then sustain high quality programs that address the human and fiscal challenges they may encounter.

    Surely, if Utah with its low per-pupil spending has been able to create programs that are yielding impressive results, MCDPS can as well.

    Wishing you every success as you embark on this significant journey ….
    Retha Boone-Fye

    10:01 AM on June 2, 2015
    Miami-Dade County’s increasingly important status as a global player makes it absolutely necessary to prepare its students to compete in that economy. It would be a travesty to under-prepare our students for the future by denying them the opportunity to become bilingual. That being said, the Black Affairs Advisory Board’s letter to the editor or The Miami Herald on Sunday, May 31st, specifically details the need to find a cost-effective way to teach our students the skills necessary for their future success.
    For years, I have personally advocated for the Miami-Dade School Board to teach Spanish to minority students-specifically African American students-who graduate without that skill and are therefore at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to obtaining even menial jobs here in Miami.
    I would be honored to become a part of the advisory panel established to study this situation as I believe it is imperative that all students be given equal access to educational programs that increase their ability to become productive, contributing citizens.
    Retha Boone-Fye

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