Denver Board of Education member Rita Montero is well qualified to both evaluate the success of Denver’s bilingual education program and to prescribe improvements.
As a parent, she has had her own set of personal experiences with the program (mostly unhappy), and as a school board member she has had the opportunity to look at educational issues from a systemwide point of view.
In this latter capacity, the principal problem has been providing the teaching resources so that programs can be tailored on a school-by-school basis.
Because Montero is Hispanic, she has been under some pressure from interested groups to either support the program in its present form or even expand the program. She has declined to do so and instead taken positions that, under the circumstances, require some daring.
Montero’s position is that if testing were better and more widely used,
there would be fewer students entering the program. In addition, thousands more might be moved back to regular classrooms. She is firm in her belief that many students have been kept in the program too long and have received declining educational benefits as a result.
If the program were scaled back and greater authority given to parents to determine when their children could be withdrawn from the program, Montero said it is likely that the remaining bilingual instruction would probably be improved. She notes that the district has a large number of bilingual teachers on the staff who are not fully certified to teach.
Montero’s views may not yet be the dominant views in the Hispanic community,
but she certainly isn’t alone.
The Congress of Hispanic Educators, the group that has been the most vocal in support of bilingual instruction, has yet to show any sign it is softening its position.
The test will come in a few weeks when the district unveils some of its plans. At that point leaders of the congress and the community generally will have a chance to respond.
This newspaper has long supported major changes in the existing program,
specifically the removal of judicial constraints that have made the program’s operation far too rigid. It is especially important that parents be given a greater role in determining whether and for how long their children must remain in the program.
Finally, in keeping with the district’s transition to neighborhood schools,
individual school administrators and their governing committees need greater flexibility and latitude in tailoring programs that fit their enrollment mix.
When and if these modifications to the bilingual education program are finally made, Rita Montero will deserve a slice of the credit for helping lead the way.