A New Threat to Bilingual and Multilingual Programs: NCLB Program Improvement Teams

by multilingualmania on April 2, 2009

in Bilingual Education, Policy

As bilingual and multilingual educators, we know that our bilingual programs are constantly prone to attack due to various causes and reasons. Sometimes it is a blatant anti-bilingual sentiment that threatens our programs, as was the case in California’s “English for the Children” Proposition 227 campaign. It’s really disheartening to me that many of the bilingual educators that I come into contact with on a daily basis have no knowledge of the Prop 227 struggle because they are newer educators, or they just have complete historical amnesia as to the struggle that bilingual education advocates endured to counteract the negative attacks on bilingual education. What is Prop 227, you ask? In a nutshell, it was an anti-bilingual education initiative passed in California in the late 90’s that set restrictions on bilingual education programs.

Now we have a silent and maybe even more possibly dangerous threat out there–external NCLB program improvement teams. When a school in California does not meet state and/or federal accountability requirements, it faces various sanctions. One of the sanctions is that a school or district is placed in program improvement status and may fall under the supervision of a program improvement team. The program improvement teams are external teams that come into either the school or the district with the purpose of assisting the site with academic achievement.

Through my personal experiences with certain program improvement teams in California, I have come to the conclusion that they have the potential to essentially do what Prop 227 was not able to do-further dismantle all bilingual education programs, or force them to be extremely early-exit type programs where students are transitioned into English-only classrooms as early as first or second grade. I have had experience with program improvement teams entering into schools with functioning Dual Immersion and/or late-exit bilingual maintenance programs and attempting to dismantle the programs, although there is plentiful evidence that the program is not the lowest performing program in the school or district. It’s as if you can’t convince them otherwise, even with a mound of data that clearly demonstrates that the bilingual education program is not the main problem that the school is facing.

At one of the Title III workshops held by the California Department of Education last year, I had a discussion with one of the Department employees regarding this matter. She informed me that she has been hearing rumors about such program improvement teams throughout the state. She also informed me that the California Department of Education clearly states in their training for the program improvement teams that they are not to dismantle programs, and instead have been directed to address the key instructional pieces that need to be in place within bilingual programs in order to improve student achievement. So, I ask myself, “Why are these program improvement teams not being held accountable for stepping over the line? When are bilingual educators going to question them?”

Now is not the time for us to be silent. If we don’t question their decisions, then we will wake up tomorrow and all of our programs will be gone. I’m trying to think of what exactly can be done with this type of situation-who do you make a complaint to and what specific steps should be taken when dealing with program improvement teams that are attempting to dismantle effective bilingual education programs. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that bilingual education advocates need to network together and receive approval to become a certified team themselves.

Has anyone else had any experience with this type of situation? What can be done?

Related Posts:
Is Bilingual Education Against the Law in California?

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