CHRISTINA VEIGA: Miami-Dade moves to boost Spanish instruction

Luciana Luquez reads in Spanish in the auditorium at Aventura Waterways K-8 School on May 14, 2015.

C.M. GUERRERO/TMH

The Miami Herald, 08-03-2015

Mark Robson asked for a teacher conference when he became worried about his two sons’ grades in Spanish.

The problem: They were getting straight As at Highland Oaks Elementary.

“Their grades were too good and they didn’t know a lick a Spanish,” he said. “They knew their colors and they knew their numbers, but they didn’t know ‘Hello.’”

As parent demand for foreign language classes grows in Miami-Dade, two dominant issues have emerged: the quality of instruction and a lack of access for all students.

District officials hope to bring solutions in the new school year with a new graduate certificate program for teachers, a $4 million curriculum overhaul and a soon-to-be appointed task force.

“It means we’re addressing the issue,” said Mari Corugedo, a local director for the League of United Latin American Citizens and a Miami-Dade teacher. “Our kids are graduating not knowing a second language, and that’s putting them at a disadvantage.”

Spanish instruction was pushed into the spotlight when the district began phasing out traditional classes, which were treated a bit like electives, about two years ago. Parents complained their kids weren’t learning enough and wanted something more effective.

In place of twice-a-week classes, the district doubled the number of elementary schools with an extended foreign language program. In the EFL program, subjects like math and language arts are taught in Spanish every day.

But a new problem emerged. In a county touted as Latin America’s backyard, the school district struggled to find qualified Spanish teachers. The loss of language is not unique to Miami-Dade; in many immigrant communities, fluency fades with each generation.

Teachers who knew enough Spanish to get by socially were suddenly thrust into an academic setting — without the vocabulary and grammar skills needed in the classroom.

Not only are their language skills sometimes lacking, but elementary teachers in the EFL program don’t need to be certified to teach a foreign language. So they were being asked to teach a subject they had no formal training in.

“An elementary teacher is a generalist. They take a class in math or science but they do not concentrate in one area. So these teachers are not Spanish teachers,” said Beatriz Zarraluqui, a district director of bilingual education in Miami-Dade. “Those are the teachers who have the greatest difficulty.”

A new graduate certificate in partnership with Florida International University has been designed to address these issues. Four of the courses will be taught completely in Spanish to help teachers build fluency in the language. Teachers will also learn how to effectively teach a foreign language.

The program still has to be approved by the school board and FIU. Enrollment will probably start in the fall semester.

Most of the money dedicated to improving Spanish instruction in Miami-Dade will actually go toward buying new textbooks, prompting mixed reactions.

Miami-Dade’s proposed budget includes more than $4 million for a new curriculum tailored for the district. The new books feature “authentic” texts — stories originally written in Spanish — instead of just translations from English.

Assistant Superintendent Maria de Armas said original Spanish content brings an important cultural component to the new curriculum. With texts written by Hispanic authors, students can learn how countries assign different meanings to the same words and explore different cultural norms.

“Our goal is to be bilingual, bicultural,” de Armas said.

Morgan Polikoff , an assistant professor of education at University of Southern California who has studied the use of textbooks, said a new curriculum can be a “very low-cost intervention” to boost student grades.

“We have a good deal of research that materials affect teachers’ instruction and, through that, student achievement,” he wrote in an email.

On the other hand, 20-year Spanish teacher Ingrid Robledo says she only uses her textbook about once a week.

“The textbook that I use is the newspaper, is the radio, is the TV. Everything and anything is a good excuse to expand their literacy,” said Robledo, who teaches at George Washington Carver Middle School. “It’s true books could make a difference, but I truly believe that it makes a difference the approach a teacher is using.”

Robledo says what she does works: almost all her eighth-grade students passed their Advanced Placement tests last school year. What’s important is teaching the language in context, and that takes professional development, she said.

To that end, the district is expanding its teacher training schedules and dedicating additional money for stipends so teachers can attend professional development sessions.

Corugedo, the league of Latin American citizens director and Miami-Dade teacher, called the move “very meaningful.”

Other issues of quality will be addressed through a task force that the district says will be named in the next month. Members are expected to sort through research and best practices to recommend a program that will meet parents’ expectations.

That includes finding a way to balance access for everyone who wants to take Spanish at a time when demand is high.

Gifted kids are shut out of the program. So are students who struggle academically — despite evidence that shows learning another language can boost school performance.

Then there are capacity issues, where some schools don’t have enough students to fill a classroom and justify paying for another teacher. Other schools have waiting lists for their more rigorous programs.

“The main concern, really, is how do we make it available to all students?” Corugedo said. “Now it’s only offered to a very select few, and that’s very worrisome.”

The task force will have its first meeting at the beginning of the school year.

This article includes comments from the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their opinions with the Miami Herald and WLRN. Become a source at MiamiHerald.com/insight.

…….

VERSIÓN ESPAÑOL

Miami-Dade mejorará la enseñanza del español

Mark Robson pidió una reunión de maestros cuando comenzó a preocuparse por las calificaciones de sus dos hijos en la asignatura de Español.

El problema es que sacaban calificaciones de A en la Escuela Primaria Highland Oaks.

“Tenían calificaciones excelentes pero no sabían absolutamente nada de español”, dijo. “Sabían los colores y los números, pero no sabían decir siquiera ‘Hola’ ”.

En momentos que los padres exigen más clases de idiomas en las escuelas de Miami-Dade, han surgido dos grandes preocupaciones: la calidad de la enseñanza y la falta de acceso para todos los alumnos.

Las autoridades del distrito escolar esperan ofrecer soluciones en el nuevo curso escolar con un nuevo programa de certificación para maestros, una modificación del currículo a un costo de $4 millones y un equipo especial que pronto se nombrará.

“Esto significa que estamos abordando el asunto”, dijo Mari Corugedo, directora local de la Liga de Ciudadanos Latinoamericanos Unidos (LULAC) y maestra de Miami-Dade. “Nuestros alumnos se gradúan sin saber otro idioma que no sea inglés, y eso los coloca en desventaja”.

La enseñanza del español se convirtió en un asunto de interés cuando el distrito comenzó a eliminar por fases las clases tradicionales, que eran consideradas asignaturas electivas, hace dos años. Los padres se quejaron de que sus hijos no estaban aprendiendo lo suficiente y querían algo más efectivo.

En lugar de clases dos veces a la semana, el distrito duplicó la cantidad de escuelas primarias con un programa ampliado de idiomas. En el programa EFL, asignaturas como Matemáticas y Lengua se enseñan a diario en español.

Pero entonces surgió otro problema: en un condado que se se considera extremadamente cercano a América Latina, el distrito escolar batalló por encontrar maestros calificados de Español. La pérdida del español no es única de Miami-Dade; en muchas comunidades de inmigrantes el conocimiento de los idiomas maternos se reduce con cada generación.

Los maestros que sabían español suficiente para comunicarse socialmente, de repente tenían la responsabilidad de enseñarlo, sin tener los conocimientos de vocabulario y gramática necesarios para enseñar la materia.

No solamente a veces no tienen los conocimientos de español necesarios, sino que a los maestros de primaria en el programa EFL no se les exige una certificación para enseñar el idioma. Así las cosas, les exigían enseñar un idioma para el que no estaban capacitados formalmente.

“Los maestros de primaria son generalistas. Toman una clase en Matemáticas o Ciencias, pero no se concentran en una materia. Así, los maestros no son especialistas en español”, dijo Beatriz Zarraluqui, directora de Educación Bilingüe en Miami-Dade. “Esos son los maestros que tienen las mayores dificultades”.

Para solucionar la situación se ha creado un nuevo programa de certificación en alianza con la Universidad Internacional de la Florida. Cuatro de los cursos se enseñarán completamente en español para ayudar a los maestros a conocer a fondo el idioma, y les enseñan a impartir el idioma con efectividad.

El programa todavía debe ser aprobado por la Junta Escolar y FIU. Las inscripciones probablemente comiencen en el semestre de otoño.

La mayor parte del dinero dedicado a mejorar la enseñanza del español en Miami-Dade se dedica a comprar nuevos libros de texto, lo que ha provocado reacciones encontradas.

El plan de presupuesto escolar de Miami-Dade incluye más de $4 millones para un nuevo currículo ajustado especialmente para el distrito. Los nuevos libros tienen textos “auténticos”, escritos originalmente en español en vez de ser traducciones del inglés.

La superintendente adjunta María de Armas dijo que los textos originales en español son un un componente cultural importante en el nuevo currículo. Al ser escritos por autores hispanos, los estudiantes pueden aprender cómo los países dan un significado diferente a las mismas palabras y explorar normas culturales.

“Nuestra meta es ser bilingües y biculturales”, dijo De Armas.

Morgan Polikoff , profesor adjunto de Pedagogía en la Universidad del Sur de California, quien ha estudiado el uso de libros de texto, dijo que un nuevo currículo puede ser un “medio de bajo costo” para mejorar las calificaciones de los estudiantes.

“Tenemos una buena cantidad de investigaciones que indican que los materiales influyen sobre el nivel de la enseñanza que imparten los maestros y la calidad de la educación que reciben los estudiantes”, escribió en un correo electrónico.

Por otra parte, Ingrid Robledo, quien lleva 20 años enseñando español, dice que sólo usa sus libros de texto una vez a la semana.

“El libro de texto que yo uso es el periódico, la radio, la televisión. Cualquier cosa es una buena excusa para ampliar los conocimientos”, dijo Robledo, quien enseña en la Escuela Intermedia George Washington Carver. “Es cierto que los libros pueden marcar una diferencia, pero creo con firmeza que el enfoque del maestro también marca una diferencia”.

Robledo dice que su método funciona: casi todos sus alumnos de octavo grado aprobaron el curso pasado las pruebas de Advanced Placement, clases que cuentan como créditos para la universidad. Lo que es importante es enseñar el idioma en su contexto, y para ello hace falta desarrollo profesional, agregó.

Con ese fin, el distrito está ampliando sus cursos de capacitación profesional y dedicando dinero adicional para estipendios, para que los maestros puedan asistir a clases de desarrollo profesional.

Corugedo, la directora de LULAC y maestra de Miami-Dade, que la decisión es “muy significativa”.

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Un comentario en “CHRISTINA VEIGA: Miami-Dade moves to boost Spanish instruction

  1. Robert Thompson · University of Maryland, College Park
    Are there any free Spanish classes for those who speak English? Bilingual is great, but all students should be afforded the same opportunity. At some point these students will venture out into the real world should be as fluent in English as they are in Spanish.

    Yvette Casas · COO at Casas Brothers Corporation
    I have one son in EFL since Kindergarten. He has a ton of classmates from English only families. It is difficult for the parents for the homework but it does not exclude their participation. Originally EFL was only able to be started in Kinder so that the student would learn to read and write in both languages as if they had no previous language instruction and fluency. That is until the expanded it. My son is going into 4th grade and doesn’t speak any Spanish and he has always had A’s in spanish. English Language Arts and Reading have never suffered. After all the schools and teachers are judged on standardized test results so Reading and Math will always come first.

    Mary Sabot
    Why the need to spend $4 million on a new curriculum? Why not use the curriculum of Spain, which is already being used at Coral Way K-8 and Carver middle? And the newspaper/radio, as Ms Robledo says. Also, remember that Carver middle students who pass the AP have much more than 2 hours/week in the language. To become truly bilingual, English-speaking students need to spend half their school day in the language, as Carver and Sunset do, at least in the IS program. There seems to be a lot of demand for those programs – why not make them available at many more schools? It is hard to believe that MDCPS can’t find qualified Spanish teachers! I can only imagine how many qualified teachers in Spain (and other countries) would love to come here to teach Spanish! Bilingualism is good for brain development in general; let’s catch up to European countries which start all kids in a 2nd language (often English) in elementary school.

    Libby Perez · University of Miami
    In recent media presentations, Sup. Carvalho stressed the importance of equity, access, and choice, independent of a student’s zip code. He and the school board should be congratulated for setting up a task force to take into account stakeholder and expert opinion on how to match those key terms to the district’s array of programs. Matter of fact, that would be a good name for the group: the Task Force on Equity, Access, and Choice in Spanish Instruction for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

    Louise Harber · President at FLSAS/Foreign Language & Cultural Immersion
    You do not learn a language from a text book. You learn it by using it. Language learning needs to be more focused on actually speaking the language, not reading. I think that Ingrid Robledo understands what is needed. I have spent 35+ years sending students (of all ages) to foreign countries to learn foreign languages. There are so many opportunities to learn and practice Spanish in Miami, I cannot believe the solution is $4M for books.

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