Debate intensifies before vote on bilingual-education policy

Houston school trustees who are proposing a controversial new policy on
bilingual education have been meeting with members of the Hispanic
community to consider a few changes.

But the overall intent of the policy — emphasizing “the ability to read,
write and speak English as rapidly as possible” — is likely to remain intact when the board votes July 22.

“Wherever the words `quick’ and `rapid’ appear, they are staying,” said Jeff
Shadwick, one of the two trustees who wrote the proposal.

According to the proposal, children would be moved from bilingual education classes into English classes as soon as they are able to demonstrate proficiency in reading English.

The Houston Independent School District proposal, drafted by Shadwick and
? Gabriel Vasquez, was scheduled for the board’s consideration last month.

However, the vote was postponed after a group of legislators protested the plan, calling it “an advocacy vehicle for the English-only movement.”

Since then, Shadwick and Vasquez say they have been meeting with a group of professors and others to consider some wording changes.

And on Wednesday, they’ll discuss their proposal at a meeting sponsored by the Parents for Public Schools of Houston from 7-9 p.m. at the Museum of Fine Arts.

? “We’ve made ourselves available to meet with whoever has asked for us,”
Shadwick said.

However, state Sen. Mario Gallegos said he and other legislators who have
protested the policy are not attending the meeting because the trustees won’t pull the item from the July meeting agenda. Some observers have speculated that a majority of the board is ready to vote for the proposal.

“If they are not going to pull it, then there is no reason to meet,” said Gallegos,
D-Galena Park. “The whole thing smells. And it’s starting to smell real bad.
And I for one don’t like it.”

Gallegos has likened the proposal to a law in California that replaced bilingual education with one year of English immersion.

The board members “are not talking to the people that oversee bilingual education, and that’s the Legislature and” the Texas Education Agency,
Gallegos said. “That’s who the board should be talking to.”

Laurie Bricker, HISD board president, said she has asked Gallegos to meet
with her. She said the senator knew when the vote was postponed last month that the proposal would be considered for a final vote this month.

“He’s known that all along,” she said. “And what I don’t want to reduce this to
is a political football between the senator and the school district. What I do
want to keep focused on is policy making and what is in the best interest for
our children.”

Guadalupe San Miguel, a University of Houston history professor, said the
Latino Policy and Education Council has been meeting with the trustees and is making an effort to negotiate some changes in the proposal.

San Miguel said he believes the proposal focuses too much on learning English and too little on academic achievement. He said a well-structured bilingual education program emphasizes both.

Lisa Navarett, spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza in
? Washington, D.C., said she and the group’s president, Raul Yzaguirre, also have met with Shadwick, Vasquez and Bricker to review the proposal.

Although she said that the group’s staff is still analyzing the proposal,
she agreed with San Miguel that the policy should place greater emphasis on academic achievement.

“For us, it’s not to say that English is not important; on the contrary,
it’s
extremely important,” Navarett said. “But also making sure that these children don’t fall behind in school and are able to move forward and graduate with a decent education is our primary objective.”

Vasquez said he believes the policy reflects an emphasis on student achievement “in terms of increasing the number of bilingual teachers, in terms of a systematic, consistent curriculum, in terms of a focus on English reading proficiency and also in terms of increasing parental involvement.”

In HISD, 58,000 students speak limited English. Of those, 95 percent come from Spanish-speaking homes.

State law requires every school district with 20 or more limited-English students to provide bilingual education or a special language program. In the standard bilingual education programs, students in the early grades learn their subjects in their native language while progressively getting more English instruction.

Bricker said some teachers have complained that students aren’t getting
enough English instruction.

“They are saying we are holding back mostly Spanish-speaking kids, and we
are teaching them with too much Spanish and very little English,” she said.
“And then we are trying to exit them (into English classes) in the fourth or fifth
? grade, and they don’t have the English skills.”



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