Denver Public Schools officials proposed a dramatic departure in bilingual education Thursday that would cut years off the time non-English speaking children spend in the program.
The plan also gives parents veto power over enrolling their children in bilingual classes, and promises higher-quality staff who will be held more responsible for student learning.
The plan represents a new philosophy that would establish clear goals to move students into regular classes at all schools as soon as possible.
However, even when students move on they will not go ”cold turkey” off their native language, which is Spanish for 87 percent of the program’s 13,
625 students. Rather, students’ abilities will be judged individually. Those who need to be phased into English instruction gradually or who require other assistance making the transistion will receive it.
Board member Laura Lefkowits emphasized ”this is not a final product” and that ”we intend to listen very carefully” to the public and possibly make changes.
However, she added that ”we are very strongly committed to the three years” of bilingual instruction called for in the new plan. Many children now stay in twice that long. Some stay in bilingual programs their entire DPS career.
The change is unavoidable, officials said. More than 20 percent of DPS students have limited English skills. More than half those students over a recent two-year period showed little or no progress in English proficiency.
In the 1994-95 school year, only 470 students left the program for regular classrooms.
School officials say that most parents want their children to learn in English. But mainstreaming students has been scarce.
”There was a cocoon of sorts,” said board member Rita Montero. ”Children stayed in bilingual because they felt safe.”
As part of its desegregation plan, DPS was forced in 1984 by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch to offer special instruction to students whose primary language was not English or who lived in a home where English was not dominant. Matsch acted after a lawsuit filed by the Congress of Hispanic Educators.
The new proposal would dramatically alter Matsch’s directive. Superintendent Irv Moskowitz said he hopes to negotiate with the Hispanic educators over the new plan to present a united request for freedom from court supervision.
But the Hispanic group could fight to keep the court order. It is expected to resist the three-year plan as not long enough. The group also is reluctant to let parents make bilingual decisions for their students.
Students who need more time will get it, provided that mainstreaming is the goal.
Tony Vigil, director of the bilingual program, is unsure how many students would be proficient enough in English to leave the program after three years. He speculated up to 50 percent.
Esther Romero, a Denver teacher and a Hispanic Congress member, said her group couldn’t comment on a plan they had not seen. But she supported plans for three public meetings.
”I’m glad to see they want community input. I’ll be curious how much they listen and who they listen to,” Romero said.