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Future Uncertain for Dual Language; Auditor to Evaluate Program

Parents are working to keep the two-way language immersion program going, saying it is a model for other districts.

Credit: File photo
Credit: File photo

With talk of data points and tests scores, the Oswego School District 308 Board of Education heard administrators’ take on the Dual Language program in front of a packed house on Monday night.

Superintendent Matthew Wendt said the program will continue for the 2014-15 school year, but its future is uncertain.

Wendt ordered an audit of the program, citing what he called “unacceptable” test results.

But members of the World Class 308 parent group criticized data shared by administrators at an April 28 board meeting, saying some numbers were skewed while others were inaccurate.

Parent Tina Gonzalez, who has a son and daughter in the program, said for starters, the numbers of native Spanish speakers and native English speakers included in the documents were incorrect.

“They were off by quite a bit,” rendering the rest of the report inaccurate, she said.

Wendt said overall, data shows only 25 percent of the district’s entire population of English Language Learners is meeting or exceeding state standards in math, and 19 percent of students are meeting or exceeding standards in reading.

“We are not going to agree on data,” Wendt told parents Monday. “Here’s the facts — we cannot accept the entire program’s results … that doesn’t mean we have to throw it out.”

The program gives both native English- and native Spanish-speaking students the chance to be immersed in the other language.

“It helps ELL students learn while retaining their native language,” Gonzalez said. Meanwhile, students become proficient at reading and writing in both languages, she said.

Gonzalez said the State of Illinois now allows a seal of biliteracy to be placed on the diplomas of students who are proficient in both languages — which could give graduates a leg up when it comes to getting into colleges. 

Communication problems

Wendt acknowledged problems with communication between administrators and members of the parent group..

“I regret [that], I really do, and I hope that trust can be earned over time,” Wendt said. “I accept responsibility for staff communication that was poorly communicated.”

Parent group leader Luis Perez said members have offered potential solutions for keeping the program alive.

“This has not been a collaboration,” Perez said. “We offered some real-world solutions to administrators last week.”

Perez also said members of the Bilingual Parent Advisory Council (BPAC) should have a say in choosing an independent auditor for the program.

“Folks, we were told point blank that we will have zero voice in the section of this auditor,” Perez said. 

‘Scorched-earth proposal’

While administrators maintain that there has been no move to dismantle the Dual Language program, parents say it will happen by default if the district proceeds with plans to bring all ELL students back to their home schools by 2015.

The change was prompted by a 2011 state audit that found the district’s ELL program was out of compliance with state regulations in 19 areas.

Moving all students back to their home campuses would make it unlikely that any one school would have enough students to keep Dual Language going, according to Gonzalez.

“You probably wouldn’t have enough for a grade level at any one school,” Gonzalez said. She said the district does not have to dismantle Dual Language to comply with state regulations.

“It sounds good on the surface,” Perez said of the plan to send ELL students back to their home campuses. “In reality, it is a brutal, scorched-earth proposal.” 

Petition launched to save program

Wendt had strong words for the program’s lottery system. Currently, the program has 367 students, with a waiting list and a “lottery” system to get in.

“As long as I’m superintendent, I will never recommend a program that has the word ‘lottery’ in it,” Wendt said. “I can’t. It’s ethically unacceptable.”

The results of the outside audit are due in October.

Meanwhile, parents continue their fight to keep the program going. The group has launched an online petition to urge the board to keep Dual Language alive.

“Oswego 308 School District's Dual Language Program is a forward-thinking program that has been a model for surrounding school districts in bilingual education,” the petition states. “ … This program is producing bilingual and bi-literate citizens, and every year there is more demand for this program then there are spots available. We believe that this program should be expanded to provide this quality education to all who want it.”

Jared Ploger June 14, 2014 at 08:41 PM
I hope everyone enjoyed the free water handed out by the group today. If you sign, don't sign, or just want tovsay hello. We will be out there tomorrow making sure people are hydrated.
Mike Francis June 15, 2014 at 11:56 PM
"WorldClass308". Show me one country that primarily speaks the Spanish language and I'll show you failure and a lack of progress as compared to the US. . The people in Mexico can't even stand their own country, yet you want to introduce their language into our system and call it World Class?
ayar June 18, 2014 at 01:35 PM
I have to admit, while rudely put, the program would be better served if it were more than just one, excuse me, "two" languages. For example, China owns a lot of our debt currently, [the money and the jobs] and the Asian population in the U.S. is also a significant one. Pulling in Mandarin Chinese as an additional "immersion" language would allow for a good opportunity for students to practice their immersion skills since both Spanish speaking and English speaking students would not hold an advantage over the other in the study of it. They would be on equal footing. Having students able to negotiate with China companies directly would be a significant advantage "for the kids".
Monica Ploger June 19, 2014 at 09:06 AM
Hi, Ayar. Mandarin is absolutely a language choice we should have available in our schools! The purpose of the DL program, however, is to get the kids who are native speakers of another language to speak English. The best way to do that is to teach them to read and write in their native language as well (they outscore kids in English who don't learn this way by the time they leave elementary)...the half of the class that are native English speakers (like my son) benefit from also becoming biliterate (and outscore other English speakers in English by the time they leave elementary). There have not been enough native speakers of Mandarin coming into Kindergarten in a year in the district to have this particular type of Mandarin opportunity available, but that doesn't mean that we can't advocate for Mandarin at younger ages. You'll want to educate the public quite a bit though on the value of Mandarin. I say this, because I teach world languages in a middle school in Indian Prairie School District; and we tried offering middle school German, Mandarin, Spanish, and French for three years and didn't have enough students enroll in German or Mandarin any of those years in any of our 7 middle schools so now just offer the other two in middle school but all four in high school where there are more students. If you are looking for Mandarin for your elementary level child, there is a Mandarin Saturday school program (teaches traditional method) at Jefferson Junior High in Naperville (uses their space but not a district program.)
Ruby Reveles June 24, 2014 at 08:26 PM
Thank you to everyone in the community who signed the petition! It was submitted to the BOE and Administration at the 6/23/14 meeting with a total of 2,108 signatures!!! Very impressive to have gathered that much support in only 3 weeks. We thank you for the support.

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