While the Board of Education wants to get English learners into all-English classes as quickly as possible, it also is, allowing schools to develop students native languages.
Called dual language, the approach puts English speakers and non-English speakers in the same classes and teaches them in both languages. The goal is to make them fluent in both languages within five or six years.
Since the board’s crackdown on transitional bilingual education began in 1997, 17 schools have adopted dual-language programs for at least some of their students, bringing the total to 26. Instruction at most of the schools is conducted in Spanish and English. One school, Haines, teaches in Chinese and English.
Most of the schools started dual language at the preschool level and added a class each year. For those that began in 1997, this school year will be a telling one: Their initial dual-language students are now in 3rd grade and, as a result, will take the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills for the first time.
“It’s a crucial year for us,” acknowledges Blanca Treviño, who oversees dual-language programs for the Chicago Public Schools.
There are 500 children in this group, out of a total of 4,900 in CPS dual-language classes.
When the test results come in, however, it will be difficult to know what they mean. The reason is that few of Chicago’s dual-language schools adhere to the prescribed model of instruction, which calls for teaching roughly equal numbers of English-learners and English-speakers in the same classes for most of the school day. At the outset, the “minority” language is used up to 80 percent of the time and then shifts gradually to 50 percent.
However, in Chicago nearly every dual- language program separates children by their dominant language for instruction in language arts and often math. At some schools, children are in separate classrooms for one-half to two-thirds of the day. Most principals say a School Board policy requiring primary students to receive reading instruction in their native language forces them to separate the children.
However, the School Board’s accountability policies may play a larger role. Schools also separate children to help teachers prepare English-dominant students for the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills by the 3rd grade.
Further, to boost performance on this measure, many of Chicago’s dual- language schools introduce English earlier than most dual-language experts recommend.
“If you’re taking them out and separating them for long periods of time, it’s not dual language,” Katherine Lindholm-Leary, author of “Dual Language Education: Bilingual Education and Bilingualism” and a professor of child development at San Jose University. “It’s merely a different version of bilingual education.”
George Mason University researchers Virginia Collier and Wayne P. Thomas, who recently concluded the largest federally funded study of bilingual education in the U.S., agreed. “All researchers recommend against separating because what you’re doing is lessening the power of two-way immersion,” says Collier. “It’s like you’re going back to a transitional model for part of the day.”
“Schools have so many demands because of the testing that they do it this way,” says CPS’ Treviño. “We know what the research says, we can tell them the models that work, but we cannot dictate how the programs are implemented.” Neighborhood demographics also augur against carrying out the program as prescribed: Many schools don’t have enough English-speakers for balanced classes.
Take for example, Salazar Bilingual Education Center, a predominantly Hispanic school in the Gold Coast, where nearly all the students are bused from Pilsen. About 70 percent of the students are classified Limited English Proficient, or LEP.
“We could never have a 50/50 balance of students,” says Principal Martha Miranda. “Just a small number speak English.”
Still, Salazar’s test scores, though not stellar, have climbed steadily since adopting a variation of dual language. “It’s working for us,” says Miranda.
While the prescribed program calls for keeping students in dual language at least through 5th-grade, many Chicago schools drop it well short of that. Administrators cite the lack of qualified teachers, as well as the press of the Iowa tests.
“It is always hard to find bilingual teachers,” says Kathleen Mayer, principal of Carson Elementary School, where dual language is used in all preschool classes and in some kindergarten, 1st- and 2nd-grade classes. At Carson, 3rd grade is conducted entirely in English, in preparation for the Iowa tests.
Like many of her colleagues, Mayer was drawn to dual language by studies showing academic and social benefits. In addition, she was familiar with the success of Inter-American Magnet School, the first dual-language school in Chicago and one of the oldest in the country.
“Research shows that it’s easier for children to acquire a second language if they start at three or four years old,” she says. “We also have a large bilingual population, and we didn’t want to isolate them from the rest of the school.”
The desire to reduce the isolation of LEP students figured into most schools’ decision to use dual language.
Instead of being ashamed of their placement in a transitional bilingual classroom—which is largely perceived by teachers and students alike as a remedial program—LEP students as well as native English speakers are both proud to be part of a program that’s touted as “enrichment,” says Victoria Cadavid, principal of Pickard Elementary School.
Pickard is one of four dual language converts that is taking the program schoolwide. The others are Lozano, Andersen and Salazar.
Though some teachers were skeptical at first, says Cadavid, nearly everyone has noticed a positive change among the students.
Pickard had a number of things going for it to ease the transition. With a student enrollment that is about half LEP, it already had a good supply of bilingual teachers as well as a good mix of English speakers and English learners.
The dual-language star in Chicago is Inter-American Magnet School, founded by parents in 1975. It also is a national model.
The school’s student body is diverse in many ways. The percentage of low-income students is just 54, low by city standards. The percentage of LEP students is 26. The percentage of Latino students is 64, following by 18 percent white, 16 percent African American and 2 percent Asian.
The faculty boasts a number of Golden Apple award winners.
In kindergarten and 1st grade, students are split up for an hour a day to learn how to read in their native language. The rest of the day is spent in joint classes where most of the instruction is conducted in Spanish. In 2nd grade and beyond, students spend all of their time in joint classes, often learning through hands-on projects, games and songs that help to illustrate the subject beyond words.
Principal Eva Helwing points to the school’s Iowa test scores—they are among the highest in the city—as evidence that dual language works.
Research by Thomas and Collier emphasizes the value for English learners. Examining data on LEP students in 22 school districts from 1981 to 2000, these researchers found that those who had been in transitional bilingual education or English as a second language pullout programs trailed far behind their English-speaking peers by the end of high school. “These kids are the largest number of dropouts, the lowest achieving,” says Collier.
However, students who had been in dual-language programs—English-learners and English speakers alike—performed at higher levels than their native English-speaking peers in regular classrooms, the researchers found.
Other researchers say the data point to English immersion as the best method.
In Helwing’s view, most of the schools that have adopted dual language “don’t trust the program to work. … Honestly, I think we may be the only dual-language school in Chicago.”
Barbara Radner, director of DePaul University’s Center for Urban Education, believes that even though most Chicago programs deviate from the model, they likely provide a better learning opportunity for many students.
“I don’t think it’s really ever going to be implemented perfectly,” she says. “But if you look at the ingredients of dual language, it’s quite good.”
Aside from promoting bilingualism, dual language enables students to learn a subject more thoroughly, says Radner.
“There’s this hidden part of dual language that you twice visit the same topic,” she explains.
Treviño, who acknowledges that Chicago’s dual-language programs may not be perfect, is likewise convinced that two-way immersion, in all of is varieties within the Chicago school system, will benefit the students.
“It’s really a wonderful opportunity,” Treviño said. “I think it’s a trend of the future so our children can get the good jobs and compete in a global economy.”
Meghan Mutchler Deerin is a
Marcos and David:
Same starting point,
different paths to learning
David Garcia Dual language
David Garcia’s school-day routine is much like Marcos’. He walks to school with his brothers, Victor, 10, and Eric, 5; his sister, Sarai, 3 and their mother, Dulce Garcia. They wind their way down three flights of stairs from their Ashland Avenue apartment, then walk five blocks to Lozano Elementary, where the three brothers are enrolled.
David, a polite, serious-faced boy, heads to a sunny classroom on the third floor of the shabby turn-of-the-century building, whose hallway windows afford a view of the towering John Hancock Center. Traffic on the Kennedy Expressway rattles the panes.
Lozano is located in a rapidly gentrifying West Town neighborhood at the fringe of Bucktown. Luxury town homes and upscale condominiums are swiftly replacing the modest bungalows where many of the students once lived. “Most of our families are moving out,” Assistant Principal Sylvia Garcia says sadly. “Every year we lose 30 or 40 more students.”
When an addition to the school was built seven years ago, Lozano had 1,200 students. This year, there are 710. Nearly 94 percent of the remaining students are Hispanic; over half have limited English proficiency.
Lozano adopted a dual-language program in 1992 even though its demographics kept it from providing the traditional mix of half English-speakers and half English-learners. For Principal Aurelio Acevedo, the goal was to unify the existing student body. “It seems like in most schools the bilingual students are separated from the others, but dual language is a program that integrates them,” he says.
It’s also a way to make sure children have more instruction time in their native language before moving into an all-English classroom, adds Garcia.
“Most schools in Chicago are transitioning children after three years,” she explains. “But often they are not ready for a regular classroom.”
Most children still need more time to work on their reading skills in their native language, Garcia explains, before they can really understand what they are reading in English.
Dual language, says Maria Remigio, who is David’s 3rd grade teacher, is a “good way to give them more time in a bilingual program.”
She believes that David, who, like Marcos, reads English at the 1st-grade level, would be lost if he had to transition next year.
“Initially, we didn’t think David was on grade level,” says Remigio, a Mexican-American woman who was herself a bilingual student in the 1970s at Cooper Elementary. “He does deviate from the class work because he’s very curious. He is a little below grade level in reading, but I think it’s just a matter of motivating him a little.”
“If they learn their first language very well, they’ll take those skills and transfer them into English,” Remigio says.
Like Marcos, David is seated near the blackboard, within easy reach of Remigio, who often directs his wandering eyes back to his book. “I like to read,” David says sheepishly. “But I have trouble.”
In fact, learning to read simultaneously in English and Spanish is confusing David, says his mother. Still, she says David’s brother Victor was confused at first, too, but now is in an all-English classroom and gets As and Bs in reading.
Like Marcos, David spends most of the day with other children learning to speak English, despite the fact that he’s in a dual-language program, where, theoretically, English-speakers and English-learners sit side-by-side.
“The English-speaking students have to focus on the test, Garcia says, referring to the ITBS. “The teachers asked that we do it this way.”
So, David and the rest of the Spanish-speakers spend most of the morning with Remigio, who teaches them language arts and math in Spanish, while Trudy Saltenberger teaches the English-speaking students language arts and math in English in a classroom down the hall.
After lunch, the two groups are mixed for science, social studies and resource classes – gym, library and computers. Half the week, those classes are in Spanish. The other half, the classes are in English.
Like Marcos, David begins the day with journal writing. “I want you all to take out your diaries, and we’re going to write for 10 minutes about ways you can resolve conflicts without fighting,” Remigio says in Spanish to the group of Spanish-speakers. “You can write in English or Spanish.”
For reading, students get out the same Spanish books used by Monet’s transitional bilingual class. But unlike Monet, who constantly switches back and forth between English and Spanish, asking questions in both language, Remigio nearly always sticks to Spanish.
And so do the children. When they have a question they raise their hands, they call out, “Maestra,” and invariably ask the question in Spanish.
David’s eyes wander from a passage in his reading book describing the difference between stories that are fantasy and those that are reality. Remigio points to the words on his page, running her finger under each word that he’s supposed to be silently reading.
When the lesson is over, David and the other children go to the library corner, which is stocked with books in English and Spanish, and pick out books.
Next up is math. Roberta Gasca, who occasionally fills in so that Remigio can have a free period, arrives, and the children pull out red McGraw-Hill textbooks, titled Matematicas en Mi Mundo. They begin working on predicting numbers in a series.
After lunch, the English-learners finally meet up with their English-speaking classmates for a weekly computer class. “One week I teach in English, the next in Spanish,” computer teacher Sergio Leang explains.
Arissa Troche, 8, a girl from the English-speaking classroom, sits next to David. Today, she is having trouble with her computer. She asks David for help, and he answers her in English. Though he has no trouble communicating with his English-speaking peers, David’s English is far from perfect.
After computers, the children separate again. The English-speakers go to Remigio’s classroom for Spanish as a-second language (SSL) instruction. David and the rest of the English-learners head to Saltenberger’s classroom for English as a second language (ESL).
Saltenberger reads aloud a sentence David has composed: “I cannot ride on roller skates.” She then corrects the sentence, saying, “I cannot roller skate.”
Meanwhile, the English-speakers are struggling through SSL. After three years in the program, they are still working on introducing themselves by name, “Me llamo…”
“The Spanish-speaking kids have acquired a lot of good English skills, but the English-speaking kids are still very behind in Spanish,” she admits.
After ESL and SSL, the children are mixed again. Half from each group goes to science in Saltenberger’s classroom. The remaining children go to Remigio for social studies. On alternate days, the children switch.
During social studies, several of the English-speakers—almost all of whom are Latino—look completely lost, a common occurrence says Remigio. “It’s a little difficult to teach science and social studies in this environment,” Remigio admits, referring to the fact that the English-speakers are on unequal footing. “I feel like the [English-speakers] are not getting 100 percent.
She is not supposed to translate for them and almost never does. “The only ones who can translate are the children,” Remigio said.
If teachers translate, “the kids are really waiting for the translation instead of trying to understand what she’s saying in Spanish,” Garcia says. “They have to focus, and if there’s a problem the only one they can turn to is their friend.”
Through helping each other, the two groups have made friends, their teachers say, achieving one of the major goals set in dual-language programs.
“I only speak a little Spanish,” says Arissa, who has been in the dual-
language program since kindergarten. She says that whenever she is confused, her best friend, Ashley, or one of the other English-learners, translates.
In science class, where the English-speakers and Spanish-speakers sit side-by-side learning about food chains, all in English, the teacher supplements her explanations with pictures.
“What are some producers?” Saltenberger asks.
“Oranges,” answers a little girl from the English-speaking class.
Saltenberger writes the word “oranges” on the chalkboard and next to the word draws a picture of an orange.
Then she asks the children. “What is the word for orange in Spanish?”
“Naranja!” they call out.
Later, David’s father, home from a day of molding plastics at an Elk Grove factory, says that mastering two languages will be a tremendous advantage for his son. “Now he has a double opportunity,” says Victor Garcia, 42, who had just two years of schooling, growing up in Guatemala City.
He taught himself to read and write, and learned English well enough to land a job with an English-speaking supervisor.
He hopes that dual-language education will open doors for David, who has dreams of being an architect. Until then, “we need to push him a little,” says his father.