The head of a nonprofit organization paying for a lawsuit that seeks to eliminate Albuquerque Public Schools’ bilingual education programs said Thursday that she would entertain a settlement offer from the district.
Linda Chavez, founder of the Washington, D.C., nonprofit Center for Equal Opportunity, also said she does not oppose all bilingual programs, provided that the primary goal is to teach English to non-English speaking children rapidly.
“I would not object to a bilingual program in which children moved very quickly into English,” she said in an interview. She was in Albuquerque Thursday, in part, to speak at the University of New Mexico.
Chavez’s group has supported efforts across the country to eliminate bilingual programs.
Her group filed the lawsuit in April demanding that APS “cease from offering native language academic instruction.”
More than 24,000 APS students receive such instruction. In those courses, students who speak no or little English are taught in their home language.
Some stay in bilingual programs only until they learn English. Others continue for years with the goal of becoming literate in two languages.
Supporters of the approach say it ensures that students do not fall behind in subjects like math and science while they are learning English.
But Chavez said few bilingual programs nationwide place enough focus on teaching students English.
And because most bilingual programs are aimed at Spanish-speaking students, Hispanics suffer most, she said.
“It has been my theory that Hispanic children have been taught differently from all other minority groups,” she said.
Chavez supports English immersion programs, which seek to quickly teach students the language while integrating them in regular courses.
But she said she also recognizes that some bilingual programs are effective — particularly if they are administered by educators whose chief concern is teaching students English.
“Almost anything works if you get a committed principal and a committed teacher,” she said.
Though the lawsuit demands that all native language instruction be eliminated in the local district, Chavez said her ultimate goal is to provide parents with more options.
Those who choose bilingual programs should have them, she said, but no parent should have a child forced into such programs.
APS officials say their bilingual programs — most of which are funded by the state — are optional.
But Chavez said educators often fail to explain the methods of English instruction. The lawsuit further alleges that some students were placed in bilingual programs without parental consent.
Chavez said she would accept a settlement offer from the district only if it increased access to English-only programs. Otherwise, she said, she would press ahead with the case.
The lawsuit against APS has the potential of affecting school districts across the state, since it also seeks to have the New Mexico Bilingual Multicultural Education Act declared unconstitutional. That act establishes the state’s commitment to bilingual programs.
Chavez said the lawsuit will be a success if it prompts APS and other districts to more closely track the effectiveness of their bilingual programs.
“I think at the very least you will see major reforms as a result of this lawsuit,” she said.