Adam Torres ’06 did not attend bilingual classes; his nephews in El Paso, Texas, do. Torres is not sure, however, whether this alternative type of instruction will in the end be beneficial for his relatives. Francisca Sanchez, president of the California Association for Bilingual Education, solved his problem Wednesday night.
Sanchez, also the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in San Bernardino County in California, gave a presentation titled “Schooling English Learners for Success: What Policy Makers Need to Know” Wednesday afternoon in Dwight Hall. The talk focused on the merits and outcomes of bilingual education programs in California. The event was part of the Dwight Hall lecture series “Intersections: Theories and Practice of Civic Engagement.” Funded by a grant from the Connecticut Commission on National and Community Service and the Connecticut Department of Higher Education, this semester’s “Intersections” series brings speakers to Dwight Hall to address current issues in education and education policy.
“[Intersections] helps to build on the service and activism that Dwight Hall does by bringing together these perspectives,” Dwight Hall coordinator Patrick Casey Pitts ’03 said.
At the talk, Sanchez delivered a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation championing bilingual education and lambasting many policies that reject it. She said her organization seeks equality for “English learners” — the term she uses to describe students eligible for bilingual education — and realizes that securing a place for bilingual education involves more than just teachers and school administrators.
“[We are] supportive of parents having the right to choose the program that is right for their children,” Sanchez said. “It is abundantly clear that education is extremely political. As educators we can’t just sit outside the politics.”
She expressed her disapproval of policies such as California’s Proposition 227 that limits English learners’ access to bilingual education. Voters in Massachusetts passed a similar resolution on Tuesday.
“[Proposition 227] hugely restricted the options of both educators and parents in children’s education,” she said. “The results in California have been devastating for children.”
She said that in California 25 percent of the students, mostly Hispanic, are English learners and that this figure is above the national average.
The discrepancies in achievement between native English speakers and English learners worsen in the high school years, she said. English learners at the high school level scored particularly poorly on both the verbal and math sections of the Stanford Achievement Test.
“Fewer than 5 percent are testing at or above the norm [on the verbal section],” she said.
She presented her “eight essential elements” to help ensure that English learners “develop the skills to be a successful 21st century citizen” — a safe, respectful learning environment, access to a strong curriculum that builds bilingualism, teaching strategies tailored to bilingual students, high standards for teacher selection, parental involvement, and an integration of all available resources.
She said she believes these goals are feasible.
“This is not an impossible mission,” she said. “There are schools and communities that have made a commitment to schooling their English learners for success.”