No one should have to leave their neighborhood school to learn English
The recent articles in the Santa Barbara News-Press about McKinley Elementary School’s planned Dual Immersion Program have families wondering if they are headed down the wrong path.
Just barely getting back into classrooms, students and parents have been challenged enough. The most vulnerable now are further challenged with this program the district voted in during the COVID lockdown in Zoom to launch at McKinley Elementary this fall.
Families living in the neighborhood boundary are automatically enrolled unless they opt out, fill out district forms to transfer to another school and provide their own transportation if they want their children to be taught in English.
The Santa Barbara Unified School District plans to begin this program this fall at McKinley Elementary with 90% instruction in Spanish, 10% English in Kindergarten, and the following year adding first grade, also with 90/10. Every year after that, 10% English instruction will be added until 50% English is taught by fifth grade.
The district put forth statements of unsupported claims, such as “students will be behind at first and then soar.” However, standardized testing scores show the opposite.
Dual Language Immersion or Bilingual Programs are not a new concept. Back in 1998, California Proposition 227 was passed eliminating bilingual education in the state, as the outcomes were so poor for learning. Outcomes improved, however in 2016 with passage of Proposition 58, English-only education was repealed, and it was left to individual districts to have freedom to design their own programs.
An Equal Education is key to Equity.
A growing group of McKinley parents feel the proposed Dual Language Immersion Program does not provide equal access to the English instruction offered at other schools in Santa Barbara. This grassroots group is called the McKinley Community for English Instruction. It is growing and having neighborhood gatherings and passing flyers to get the word out.
Doesn’t everyone want their child to be bilingual? Absolutely. However, this is not the way to achieve bilingualism and puts the most disadvantaged behind.
META, the Dual Language Immersion program that was designed to help Spanish-speaking English Learners learn English and English speakers learn Spanish, is a spin-off of the model for the dual immersion program closely modeled at the under-performing Adelante Charter School. Standardized testing scores show Adelante’s students on average only 19% proficient in English, with the state average at 51%, and their math at 27% proficient with the state average at 40%. They are one of the lowest performing schools in the district.
By contrast, Franklin Elementary does things differently. With similar student
demographics, they completely immerse students in English with plenty of teacher’s assistant aides who are bilingual, as well as after-school homework help.
Their scores scream success, showing English proficiency at 57% with the state average at 51%, and math over the state average at 49% with the state average of 40%, according to greatschools.org ratings.
Spanish speakers will not be bilingual if held back in their English. English-speaking students will acquire Spanish with Spanish as the target language, although they will get behind in their English reading and writing. For many speaking mostly Spanish at home, their hours in school are the only chance for English language exposure.
The district claims a survey supporting this program change showed 81 % of support for the dual Language Immersion Program. However, whom did they survey? The survey was conducted in the spring of 2020 in the COVID lockdown thru Zoom participation and an online survey.
The participants were mostly district administration and staff, including
the superintendent and the entire school board with the exception of Virginia Alvarez, who was elected after they voted this in. It also included people from Adelante School, the supportive model the program is designed around. They supported this and participated in the survey.
The McKinley community is just finding out about the planned change recently with the announcements of their open houses to push the program and get enough English-speaking families to enroll in the program.
McKinley families are the “real stakeholders,” and with good reason are concerned about this, they have the most to lose and feel like they are being used. The concept is not popular with the community. Many speaking Spanish at home need their children to be in English all day at school to acquire English. Their concern is with only 10% of English instruction both in Kindergarten and first grade, and then only 10% each year added, the early years — the most important for language development — will be denied them. Their request is reasonable; they want a choice.
They are asking that one track remain in English immersion for those that want it all the way to fifth grade, and they don’t want to be pushed out of their school. This has been done before with success. The school that McKinley’s principal came from previously was Soria Elementary in Oxnard. Both tracks are offered there, one in bilingual immersion and one in English immersion; it was done well there and it can be done here.
The author lives in Santa Barbara.