THIS week, a new policy to guide the education of limited-English-proficiency children will be proposed for the Houston Independent School District.
This will be an important educational policy proposal for Houston and the region. Will the HISD board just follow policies designed in California? Will the board continue with business as usual? Or will the board proceed with its style of bold reforms that is turning HISD into one of the premier urban school districts in the country?
Initiatives such as ending social promotion, eliminating TAAS test exemptions and expanding educational contracts require the HISD board to rethink its beliefs and goals for bilingual education. Public sentiment also supports a review of HISD’s bilingual education program so that students learn English and achieve academically. Houston’s and the region’s future prosperity depend on an educated and literate citizenry. Bottom line: Houston and the region are best served if students with limited English proficiency are fluent in English, educated beyond high school and prepared to be effective citizens.
Since January, the HISD board’s Subcommittee on Bilingual Education has been reviewing research and other initiatives concerning bilingual education. The subcommittee has concluded that although the HISD Multilingual Department has increased student performance, much more needs to be done in order for the 58,321 Spanish-speaking HISD children (28 percent of total HISD student population) to learn English and achieve their full academic potential.
The subcommittee will redirect HISD’s multilingual instruction by proposing three core beliefs, a mission statement and six goals to serve as the basis for reform.
Core beliefs are the fundamental principles that guide how bilingual education will operate. They are as follows:
Bilingual education must work. HISD’s bilingual education programs should maximize student achievement and English language acquisition.
English language proficiency is an imperative. HISD students must learn to read, write and speak English quickly, without sacrificing long-term academic success.
Fluency in two languages is encouraged. HISD will encourage its limited-English-proficiency students to retain and improve their non-English language skills, without sacrificing rapid English language acquisition. Increasingly, HISD should offer opportunities for all students to acquire two languages to excel in a competitive global marketplace.
The mission statement reflects the purpose or strategic academic intent of bilingual education at HISD: It is the mission of HISD’s multilingual programs to strengthen the social and economic foundations of Houston by assuring its students achieve their full academic potential through the ability to read, write and speak English as rapidly as possible, and to provide non-English language instruction to those who so desire.
The program goals are the specific objectives to be accomplished through bilingual education at HISD as follows:
Increase student achievement. The performance gap between bilingual education and non-bilingual education students will narrow as demonstrated on appropriate grade level tests.
Establish English reading proficiency as the standard for transition. HISD will transition limited-English-proficiency students as soon as they are able to demonstrate proficiency in English reading. Thereafter, all academic instruction will be provided in English. English reading proficiency will be the primary goal for all limited-English proficiency students upon entering an HISD school, no matter what the grade level.
Implement a standardized curricula and assessment program throughout the district. HISD will have in place standardized, grade-level curricula and accompanying assessment programs throughout the district. The curricula should: (a) emphasize English reading; and (b) have grade-level and content area proficiency standards for learning to read, write and speak English to ensure English language acquisition. Instruction in a native and/or second language is encouraged as long as rapid English language reading acquisition is primary.
Increase parental choice and involvement. HISD bilingual program offerings will contain options in bilingual instruction including opportunities for accelerated English language acquisition. The decision for which bilingual program to offer at individual schools will be made in accordance with HISD’s decentralized management structure. Within legal and administrative considerations, the decision on which bilingual program will be attended by the student will be made by the parent.
Increase the number of bilingual teachers. HISD will develop and implement a strategic plan to recruit, hire and retain certified or qualified bilingual teachers and provide them with the necessary training, instructional and resource materials.
Encourage fluency in two languages as a goal for all students. HISD will provide program offerings and opportunities that encourage all students to acquire two languages to compete in a global marketplace.
Our intent should be clear. Bilingual education at HISD must work. English language reading acquisition is primary. Second languages are encouraged. Bilingual-curriculum options will be established by HISD and selected by schools through site-based management. Parents, however, must be involved in their child’s education through the ability to participate in learning activities in the home and choosing the best bilingual program for their child, including accelerated programs.
The role of the HISD board is to set policy. It will be up to the administration to determine exactly how these beliefs and goals will be implemented for the benefit of students. But, it is the board’s duty to do everything we can to educate Houston’s children. The school board, and the entire Houston community, will be watching HISD in the expectation that all Spanish-speaking children be afforded access to economic success through high academic achievement.
This policy initiative is a bold step forward in the education of HISD’s Spanish-speaking children. Reforming bilingual education to enhance accountability, academic performance expectations, English language acquisition standards, parent involvement and integrated curriculum objectives establishes higher standards for excellence and makes economic good sense. It is also the right thing to do. The result will be a more educated, literate and productive citizenry for Houston and the region.
Vasquez and Shadwick are members of the Houston Independent School District Board of Trustees. They are members of the board’s Subcommittee on Bilingual Education.