Bilingual proposal draws fire

Hispanic education experts say shorter timetable detrimental

Hispanic education experts predict less learning and swollen dropout rolls with a proposal by Denver Public Schools to cut time in bilingual classes to three years for most students.

”Speed kills when people move students out of bilingual as quickly as possible,” said Rudolfo Chavez, a professor at the Bueno Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Colorado.

The proper aim of any bilingual program is to teach English, but five to seven years is the minimum for much success, said Chavez, a former president of the National Association for Bilingual Education.

The DPS plan appears ”to put kids in a sink or swim situation,” he said. ”Then they become at-risk and graduate to dropouts.”

A cornerstone of the proposal unveiled Thursday is for many students to switch to mainstream classrooms in three years. DPS officials say a concise time limit for students and teachers is necessary for higher achievement in a program that has not instilled much of a grasp of English in more than half its 13,625 students. Spanish speakers make up 87 percent of the program that many stay in for years even after learning English.

Officials estimate that as few as half the students can meet the three year deadline. And those who can transfer to a regular classroom would still receive any needed native language help.

”We’re setting expectations,” said school board president Sue Edwards. ”I think we’ve underestimated these kids and shortchanged them academically. ”

Other highlights of the plan include letting parents – not educators – decide whether to place their children in bilingual education, better monitoring of student and teacher performance, higher quality staff and additional money.

The Congress of Hispanic Educators won a federal lawsuit in 1984 that forced DPS to offer formal bilingual education. DPS officials hope the new plan will end court supervision.

Three 7 p.m. forums on the plan will be held: March 17, Manual High School, 1700 E. 28th Ave.; April 7, West High School, 951 Elati St.; and April 14, Lincoln High School, 2285 S. Federal Blvd.

But unless the Hispanic congress agrees with much of the proposal the court order will be tough to kill. Their representatives declined comment Friday.

To stress how serious the district is about English, the program’s new name would be the Department of English Language Acquisition.

”That’s offensive to the community,” said Kathy Escamilla, associate professor for language, literacy and culture at the University of Colorado at Denver. ”It says there is no value to any culture or language other than English.

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