Original URL: http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36%257E53%257E1604989,00.html

English options satisfy DPS
District drops immersion plan
Denver Post
September 2,  2003

By Eric Hubler, Denver Post Education Writer

Denver Public Schools has quietly dropped a plan to offer English immersion to Spanish- speaking children after realizing that most of them already are in classrooms where English is the dominant language and the rest have the option of going into all-English classes.

Chief academic officer Sally Mentor Hay told the school board of her idea in December, adding that she hoped to launch it in at least four schools by the start of this school year.

The aim was to be able to offer high-quality English literacy instruction at every elementary school in DPS and not keep children in classrooms where Spanish is used longer than necessary, said Susana Cordova, the district's director of literacy.

"We needed to have a more consistent approach across the city," Cordova said.

Further analysis revealed that all DPS elementary schools already offer English instruction, though approaches vary and parents at some schools can choose classes that make heavy use of Spanish for a student's first three years, Cordova said.

"We need to make sure that the perception on the part of the public is matched up with what's going on," she said.

Consistency is a worthy goal because it leads to efficiencies in teacher training and better student achievement, Cordova said.

But DPS officials decided they are basically satisfied with the current system, monitored by the federal court in Denver, which allows parents to choose among different approaches to English acquisition.

"Parent choice needs to be honored at all times," Cordova said. "Any of the models can be high-quality and can be effective ways for Spanish-speakers to learn English."

On the flip side, she said, "Any model poorly implemented is not going to get results."

Eight of the 91 DPS elementary schools do not offer any special English Language Acquisition program because they have few or no English learners.

Of the rest, 34 offer Transitional Native Language Instruction, which uses Spanish support for up to three years.

Most of the remainder offer various stripes of English as a Second Language - sometimes in addition to TNLI, sometimes instead of. ESL pullout sessions are conducted in English, though sometimes the teacher knows Spanish.

An increasingly popular choice available in two schools is dual language, in which all subjects are taught in Spanish and English, Cordova said.

"Research has shown that programs that are well-implemented, of any of the models, can be successful," Cordova said.

A key element for DPS officials, Cordova said, is that parents can opt out of any program at any school and have their children placed in regular classrooms if they want.

"Parents can reject these services. It's always a parent choice," she said.

DPS does not tally how many English learners are in precisely which instructional models, Cordova said.

But more than half of DPS' 15,455 English learners as of October 2002 were receiving all their instruction in English, she said.

During last autumn's debate over a constitutional amendment that would have banned bilingual education statewide, opponents of bilingual education said that large numbers of Spanish-speaking students in DPS and elsewhere around the state were being put into Spanish-language classes against their parents' wishes, but they were able to produce only a few parents who said they had had that experience.

Voters rejected the amendment, but DPS Superintendent Jerry Wartgow said the experience would cause school officials to redouble their efforts to place English learners accurately.

"I think the perception is that bilingual education is one thing only and keeps people in Spanish classes longer than necessary, and I don't think that's true,"
Cordova said.