[lg policy] Texas: Learning the Language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Sep 24 13:39:40 UTC 2009

Learning the Language

Mary Ann Zehr is an assistant editor at Education Week. She has
written about the schooling of English-language learners for more than
nine years and understands through her own experience of studying
Spanish that it takes a long time to learn another language well. Her
blog will tackle difficult policy questions, explore learning
innovations, and share stories about different cultural groups on her

Issue Brief Holds Up Bilingual Ed. in the Rio Grande Valley as 'Model'

The Hidalgo and the Pharr San-Juan Alamo independent school districts
both carry out "effective, asset-based models" for instruction of
English-language learners, according to an issue brief published by
the American Youth Policy Forum. The organization sponsored a trip for
congressional staffers and other policymakers to those districts in
May to highlight how they were preparing ELLs for college and the

As required by Texas law, both districts provide bilingual education
at least through the 5th grade. The brief explains in detail how Pharr
San-Juan Alamo runs a dual-language immersion program for students
through the high school grades. More typically, such programs operate
only through elementary school. In the Pharr San-Juan Alamo district,
instruction in elementary school is half in Spanish and half in
English. In middle and high school, the students receive 80 percent of
instruction in English and 20 percent in Spanish.

The brief says that the students learn enough Spanish to be able to
take the Spanish II Advanced Placement test by the end of middle
school and the Spanish III Advanced Placement test by the end of the
9th grade. (It doesn't say, however, how many of those students score
well on the tests.)

What struck me is that the brief says both districts "have struggled
to attract and train sufficient certified bilingual teachers to meet
the demands of the student population."

If districts in the Rio Grande Valley, which has many people who grew
up speaking both English and Spanish at home, struggle to find
certified bilingual teachers, I can imagine that this problem is even
greater in many other communities that don't have a large bilingual

So it seems to me that finding enough certified teachers could be an
obstacle for other districts to replicate the programs that the
American Youth Policy Forum are holding up as models.

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