San Francisco Unified School District. Photo by Jennifer Cortez.

Percentage of English and Spanish instruction in bilingual classes to be juked — less Spanish, more English

After nearly 45 years of adhering to a federal mandate sparked by a civil-rights ruling to protect the rights of students learning the English language, the San Francisco Unified School District has been released from the oversight of the Department of Justice.

In the 1974 U.S. Supreme Court civil rights decision of Lau v. Nichols, Chinese American students in San Francisco won the right for students with limited English proficiency to receive meaningful educational programs and services.

The result was the Lau Consent Decree, which ordered the school district to create a plan that would accommodate its English language learner students. The Supreme Court also held that all public schools needed to provide bilingual education programs for English learners.

The decision to release the district from federal oversight on June 30 means that it has fulfilled the Justice Department’s demands for English language learners.

As required by California and federal laws, the district will now work on its own plan, which will involve key stakeholders — such as English language learners and their families, principals, teachers and district officials — in the process, said Christina Wong, who is the assistant to the superintendent and facilitated implementation of the decree.

The Department of Justice audited the school district every year and interviewed a variety of departments to track the decree’s progress.

By December, 2018, the DOJ had closed 101 of the decree’s 109 paragraphs. The remaining eight paragraphs — 55.a, 56.a, 57-58, 72, 101.d, 105 and 109 — were completed at the end of June.

“The United States has diligently monitored the [school district’s] programs for English learner students in this historic case and determined that the district has satisfied its obligations,” said the Department of Justice in a statement to Mission Local.

Although the school district has been released from the decree, its impact endures.

The school district and the DOJ decided that third grade students enrolled in their 15 Spanish dual immersion and bi-literacy pathways will now be taught math in English, rather than Spanish, this upcoming school year.

By third grade, students begin to take the California standardized test, known as Smarter Balanced, to measure their progress in math and English language arts. The assessment will likely serve as an additional indicator to highlight where students could use extra support.

In the Mission District, the sites affected include Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8, Leonard R. Flynn, Marshall, Bryant, Chávez, Moscone and Sanchez elementary schools.

It will, however, be an eventual transition.

Previously, third graders in the Spanish language pathways received 60 percent of total instruction in Spanish and 40 percent in English.

When students return to school in August, they will continue to receive 60 percent of instruction in Spanish during the fall; but by spring, both languages will be equally taught to help them shift to the 50-50 language split in the fourth and fifth grades.

“We were seeing a lot of students very shocked about the shift in fourth grade, and so we wanted to do a slower on-ramp in the spring semester of third grade,” said Jennifer Steiner, director of the school district’s Office of Professional Growth and Development.

If an English learner requires additional support, teachers will still be able to front-load in Spanish and then provide instruction in English.

“We want instruction to be solely in one language at a time,” she continued. “We don’t want students to be code-switching, so we support teachers directly with professional development [training].”

At this point, the Multilingual Pathways Department, which assists in developing bi-literacy programs at the school district level, have met with the leaders of each school with a Spanish program to discuss the transition plan, while a roll-out with teachers and parents will begin in the fall.

“We have come a long way since the 1970s,” said Wong. “We feel like we’re ready for that next stage to be able to develop our own master plan and we want to continue supporting English learners with the promising practices we’ve learned.”

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1 Comment

  1. I deeply believe that San Francisco should turn its education programs so that we have bilingual children growing up, valuing their home language deeply and acquiring beautiful English too, This is the norm in Europe and Asia, and we can do as well by our children. I’m saying this as a mujer que aprendi mi espanol en mis cuarentas. My pride in being able to communicate with people from many other cultures is great, and I want our children to have this kind of strength, too.

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