Rita Montero has gained an important insight into the problems of the bilingual program in Denver Public Schools.

She didn’t glean her insight from her perch on the Denver school board.

And she didn’t get it from walking the picket lines outside school headquarters.

And she didn’t come by it from meetings with other activists in the Hispanic community.

She gained her revelation as a parent of a young child.

And that’s why her new-found views are so profoundly important.

Montero has participated in her share of community meetings, public demonstrations and school board meetings.

And until recently, she was a vigorous advocate of bilingual-education programs.

She still defends them – but within newly defined limits.

She now is critical of the bureaucratic “fiefdom” that has grown around the bilingual program in Denver Public Schools, which she says had unnecessarily kept students in the program too long. The more students in the program, and the longer they stay, the more money and the more staff is allocated –
benefiting the adults working in the program rather than the students learning in it, she says.

It’s a courageous stand for a Latino leader to take.

But when Rita Montero looks back on her career as a member of the board of education, it might be the tallest mountain on the landscape.

Bilingual programs are intended to help children who speak a native language
“transition” into English, while studying their regular classes under the tutelage of a teacher who speaks both languages.

Ideally, after three or four years, the students can speak and read English fluently.

But Montero has seen students stay in the bilingual cocoon for as long as 12 years, graduating from high school without a working command of English.
That, she says, is a grave disservice that hobbles them in the workforce.

And she’s absolutely right.

There are 12,000 children in the DPS bilingual program, and too many of them are learning too little.

“If a board member had raised this issue in the past, they would be called racist. Well, I’m not going to be intimidated,” Montero told me. “I’ve had Mexicans tell me that I’ve sold out, and that hurts. But I’m going to do what I know is right.”

She describes some students in the bilingual program as “captives,” held back to build the program’s census. In that environment, the students aren’t encouraged to excel.

Montero watched it happen to her own son, whom she pulled off the bilingual track after seeing him kept in classes beneath his level of learning.

Faced with such “steering,” parents have the right to exclude their children from bilingual classes, but few parents are aware of that, she said.

Montero’s goal is not to attack the bilingual program, but to improve it.
She says the teachers need more training, the program needs more monitoring and the students need to be moved into mainstream classes more efficiently.

If she prevails, she will have helped thousands of Hispanic children – a proud legacy for one person taking a bold stand. Chuck Green’s commentaries appear here on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. His phone is 820-1771; his e-mail address is cgreen@denverpost.com

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