Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hi - Hello - Hola - Pedro

The Current Headline

"MPS targeted in complaint over instruction of English as second language." That's the headline in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

LULAC, League of United Latin American Citizens, of Wisconsin filed the complaint after 2 years of negotiations with MPS. The complaint, "filed at the Office of Civil Rights in the U. S. Department of Education office in Chicago, claims MPS and the Milwaukee School Board are not complying with the Civil Rights Act."

According to the MJS article, MPS gets federal funding for teaching English to those who speak another language and 26 schools in MPS had bilingual schools last year. Darryl Morin, state director of LULAC, says MPS is using "uncertified and unqualified teachers in the program."

Interestingly enough Rep Pedro Colon introduced a bill in this years budget that would "that would require private schools with more than 10 percent limited-English proficient students to teach students in a bilingual-bicultural fashion." His motivation was supposedly "there's been a concern in the bilingual teacher community" in Milwaukee Public Schools about what private schools might or might not be doing, according to a June 2nd article by Patrick McIlheran.

I have a few concerns myself when looking at the whole of this story. We again seem to be seeing students being used as pawns for money and political power.

The Larger Picture

What we have here are 3 factions: MPS & Rep Colon, LULAC, and choice schools (represented by St. Anthony's School) in a tug of war of philosophies using students as the rope.

LULAC is no friend of choice schools, according to their website:
LULAC strongly opposes vouchers.
LULAC supports full-funding of the No Child Left Behind Act.
LULAC strongly opposes all legislation that designates English as the official language of the United States or of any individual state.

There is no question that MPS is struggling. In this circumstance they are being attacked by LULAC who wants more out of them then maybe is warranted. Yet MPS through its conduit, Rep Colon, is expecting even more from choice schools.

St. Anthony's on Milwaukee's south side is one of the largest and by most accounts successful choice schools. The assault by Rep Colon even seems unfair to Jesus Santos, who oversees bilingual education for MPS.

Says Santos, there are two big problems with what Colon demands. One is his 10% figure. Public schools are required to start offering courses in a student’s native language only when a certain number of students – not a percentage of them – are weak in English. That’s to keep small schools from incurring big costs for, say, 10 students. But this paradox could exactly hit small choice schools...
Worse, it’s really hard to find teachers licensed to staff bilingual programs.

So how would have Rep Colon's bill affected St. Anthony's? According to Terry Brown, St. Anthony would have to replace 10% to 15% of its staff. This at a time when jobs are difficult to come by and when there are not enough teachers to fill the perceived problem of "uncertified and unqualified teachers" LULAC sees in MPS.

There is also an underlying battle of culture and teaching philosophies here.

On the one hand we have St. Anthony's method of teaching students English quickly and then immersing them in it in the way that specialty language schools immerse English-speaking children in, say, German. The idea, said Ramon Cruz, is to get students fluent as quickly as possible. The school even had an expert design a rapid-English program for middle-schoolers who transfer in. "It's very effective."

On the other hand we have LULAC who "supports bilingual education to ensure English proficiency while encouraging students to retain proficiency in their native language. English language acquisition is imperative, but bilingualism and multilingualism are assets to be valued and preserved."

MPS seems to be in the middle here, working to do their best with unwarranted pressure from LULAC and their own struggles not helping the situation.

The lawsuit by LULAC is another example of why the Federal Government should have no say in local education. Yet the money the Feds dangle in front of public education is to alluring for local goverments to turn down.

Either way, the students must be the first concern. If something is working, the players need to back away and allow the success to flourish, not hinder it.

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