U-46 bilingual education: exemplary or limited?

School District U-46, based in Elgin, Ill., the state’s second-largest school district in terms of the number of students, has been defending itself against a lawsuit in federal court stemming from redistricting changes that started in 2004-05.

Plaintiffs claim the redistricting unfairly denied black and Hispanic students access to gifted and academy programs while forcing them into crowded schools. The district denies those allegations and says the programs it provided in schools attended mainly by blacks and Hispanics were equal to those provided for white students in the other schools.

The case was on hiatus for a while, but it now comes back before judge Robert Gettleman, the Daily Herald reports. The specific issue is the quality of the bilingual education programs for blacks and Hispanics at the schools they were forced to attend.

The U-46 program, based on what Virginia Collier and Wayne Thomas said in their article “The Astounding Effectiveness of Dual Language Education for All” (NABE Journal of Research and Practice 2:1 Winter 2004), holds this philosophy:

Enrichment dual language schooling closes the academic achievement gap in L2 and in the first language (L1) for students initially below grade level, and for all categories of students participating in this program. This is the only program for English learners that fully closes the gap.

That is, rather than moving all English language learners (ELL students) to a point where instruction is delivered 100 percent in English and no instruction is delivered in Spanish, the goal should be one where half the instruction is delivered in English and half is delivered in Spanish. In this way, students develop and maintain academic literacy in both languages.

Check out the district’s full report, presented to the board of education in September 2010 (PDF).

Plaintiffs produced one expert on the subject of bilingual programs, Alba Ortiz. She testified there were limited materials available in either Spanish or English, according to the paper.

But the district produced an expert witness of its own, Beatriz Arias, currently associate director at the Center of Applied Linguistics in Washington, D.C., who told the court a bilingual education handbook, resources on the district’s website, and brochures sent home to parents exemplified the district’s commitment to providing principals, teachers, and parents consistent information that enables a quality program for students.

“Compared to other districts, I found [the bilingual education program] exceptional, and I frequently referred other school districts to contact U-46 for their professional development plans,” the Daily Herald quoted her as saying.

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Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.