AUSTIN – The Dallas school district had nearly 40 percent of the statewide total of students who did not receive required bilingual education last year, according to a state report released Friday.
The report indicated that Dallas had far more student exemptions than any other district from the state law that mandates bilingual education for children with little or no English-speaking ability.
Dallas school officials cited their inability to hire enough bilingual teachers.
Concerned by the large number of students who did not get bilingual classes, State Board of Education members Friday directed the Texas Education Agency to review the policies of Dallas and other districts that are having trouble providing bilingual education.
“We need to look at dropout rates, test results and everything else these districts are doing,” said board member Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi.
“Dallas has asked for waivers from the law several years in a row,” she said, suggesting that the state should set limits on the number of exemptions a district can get.
The state report indicated that Dallas received exemptions six of the last seven years.
“If children don’t understand the language, they aren’t going to be learners,” board member Joe Bernal of San Antonio said, explaining the rationale for the law.
In bilingual education classes, students are taught basic subjects in their native language until their English skills are sufficient to allow them to move into regular classes. Bilingual education must be provided in any district where there are 20 or more students in one grade level who cannot speak English.
The report showed that 38,402 non-English-speaking students were not given bilingual education last year because their districts received exemptions from state law.
The Dallas school district had 14,866 of those students. Houston was second with 6,152 and no other big-city districts requested an exemption.
Dallas was exempted from the law because the district said it could not hire enough bilingual teachers to instruct all its non-English-speaking students, most of them Hispanic. The district said it was unable to fill 539 teaching positions.
If exemptions are granted, the district must provide alternative types of instruction, which education experts say are generally less effective than bilingual education.
“It is no secret that we have a shortage of bilingual teachers.
We have been saying it for quite some time,” said Jon Dahlander, as spokesman for the Dallas school district.
“We have tried to beef up our recruiting efforts, but there is only a small pool of teachers that all districts are drawing from.”
He noted that the district offers stipends of $ 3,000 a year to lure bilingual teachers, but even that has not produced enough teachers.
Mr. Dahlander also cited substantial growth of the district’s student population, many of them Hispanics with limited English skills.
But Ms. Berlanga and other board members said the large number of students not getting bilingual classes is a serious problem.
Last year, 74 of the state’s 1,037 school districts received exemptions from the bilingual education requirement.
“I am concerned there are so many districts that do not have bilingual programs. Thousands of children are being neglected because they are not being provided these classes,” she said.
Board member Will Davis of Austin also said the TEA should make sure school districts provide bilingual education to all eligible students after a specified period of time.
Other districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that received exemptions from bilingual education were: Arlington (128 students affected), Duncanville (232), Irving (437), Plano (122) and Richardson (490).
Board members also said they want to look at the large number of waivers being approved for class size limits.
A total of 301 districts requested waivers last year from the state requirement that limits classes to no more than 22 pupils in kindergarten through grade four.
Districts may get an annual waiver if they lack classroom space or are unable to hire enough teachers.
But the class size limits have been on the books for more than a decade, and board members noted that some districts have repeatedly asked for waivers so they can have larger classes.
“We need to be monitoring these districts closely,” Ms. Berlanga said. “The state needs to say you cannot get a waiver every year for something that has been required in state law.”