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Department of Education Seeks Advice

Bilingual Education leaders meeting with Department of Education officials in Dallas
Bilingual Education leaders meeting with Department of Education officials in Dallas

By Bill Zeeble, KERA News

Dallas, TX – Dropout rates remain high in Texas, especially among Spanish speakers. KERA's Bill Zeeble reports on federal education leaders meeting in Dallas and five other cities, as they hope to improve that outcome.

Adela Solis says here's part of the problem that Department of Education officials hope to solve.

Solis: For our students, we're still losing 30, 40, 50 percent more. It hasn't gotten better. I think language has a lot to do with it. The fact that kids who've been living here for many years are still not masters of the English language.

Solis works with a San Antonio non-profit which has tracked Hispanic dropout rates for decades. Hundreds of bilingual educators from around the state showed up to tell DOE leaders what works and what doesn't, when it comes to teaching non-English speaking learners.

Educators rattled off a list of problems: For example, a non-English speaker needs more than a year or two to learn English. Often 4 to 7 years , but that's not part of the plan. Teachers need more time too. And too often, non English speakers are put in classes with the least qualified teachers. And some students can't pass the test because of cultural differences not accounted for. And on and on.

But DOE officials also came to hear what works. Dual-language programs ranked high. Joel Gomez, Associate Education Dean at George Washington University, explains it.

Gomez: We're not just talking teaching English to Spanish speakers and teaching Spanish to English speakers. We're talking about an educational system that teaches academic subjects in both languages, while the kids 934/59 learn both languages.

That's not the same as many current programs, where non English speakers are taught English only until they supposedly know it. Sheryl Santos-Hatchett, Bilingual Professor and Dean at the University of Texas, Dallas says dual-language programs work.

Santos Hatchett: Rather than ignore that language and let it go by the wayside, it strengthens , so they can learn to read and write and become bi-literate. And in today's global economy, having 2 languages is a definite plus. If the school has a dual language program, you will have English speaking parents clamoring to get into it because they come out bilingual, bi-literate.

Denton offers a highly ranked dual language program. Dallas uses a dual-language program in many elementary schools, according to Elizabeth Casas. She oversees bilingual education at DISD, and says the dual language approach should be in place through 5th grade by next year.

Casas: We're looking for guidance from DOE to promote bi-literacy and 2 languages. 210 Globally our country is kind of fighting to stay mono lingual when you look at other countries that are multi-lingual. Our goal would be to graduate children who are bilingual and eventually trilingual.

She echoes comments of others who say parents like it and want it in upper grades. But that would take more bilingual teachers. In Texas, there's already a shortage, some say in the thousands. Results from this meeting and others by the Department of Education could be months away.

Email Bill Zeeble