GARLAND – The bilingual education program in the Garland Independent School District should be changed so that students can learn English more quickly, school board members Elvia Flores and Mike Boyd proposed at a recent school district retreat.
Mrs. Flores and Mr. Boyd asked the staff to study the possibility of placing bilingual education pupils in English-as-a-second-language classes by the time they reach the fifth grade. Currently, pupils begin ESL classes in the sixth grade. ESL programs provide instruction in English only, but the teachers use strategies to help non-native speakers learn English.
The change might allow the district to place more teachers who are certified in bilingual education in lower grades, the trustees said.
“We don’t have enough resources, money or manpower to continue doing it the way we are doing it,” Mr. Boyd said. “We have to find a way to use our resources in the most-effective manner.”
Mrs. Flores said she also is worried that immigrant students are not learning English fast enough.
“The problem I’m trying to correct is . . . to get kids used to speaking and reading English,” Mrs. Flores said. “They might be studying English in school, but when they go home, there’s no practicing it.”
Like many other school districts, Garland has encountered a severe shortage of teachers who are certified in bilingual education. More than half of the district’s 161 bilingual education teachers are taking college courses to earn certificates that qualify them to teach in the program.
“We have to face the fact that there aren’t enough bilingual education teachers,” Mr. Boyd said.
Mrs. Flores and Mr. Boyd said they also are worried that pupils with limited English skills are lagging behind their peers on achievement tests once they reach secondary school.
Mr. Boyd said shifting pupils out of bilingual education a year earlier than normal may help them score better on tests.
“If we make an effort to transition them in fifth grade, when they are still being taught by one teacher in a less stressful situation, maybe we will be more successful,” he said.
Texas Education Agency officials said that school districts have flexibility in implementing bilingual education. However, they must be careful to comply with state and federal laws that mandate bilingual education at the elementary level.
“There will be students that will be recent arrivals to the United States who will need help in their native languages,” Maria Medina Seidner, the TEA’s director of bilingual education. “An ESL program might be quite inappropriate for them.”
State and federal laws require that elementary schools offer bilingual education – in English and the pupil’s native language, which is usually Spanish – whenever there are more than 20 pupils with limited English proficiency.