Original URL: http://www.boston.com/dailynews/147/region/Teachers_who_lack_fluency_coul:.shtml

Teachers who lack fluency could be fired under new law
Associated Press, 5/27/2003 14:32 By Jay Lindsay,

BOSTON (AP) Dozens of teachers who were hired to lead bilingual classes for an influx of foreign students could find themselves out of a job after initial evaluations show they may not be fluent in English.

A new state law will eliminate most bilingual education programs and require schools to prove by the end of the summer that their teachers are proficient in English. So far, assessments, such as classroom observations by administrators, have found that dozens of them may have difficulty holding onto their jobs because of poor language skills.

In Lawrence, for example, 31 of 93 teachers evaluated did not pass English proficiency standards and could be fired if they fail an oral exam scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, Lawrence Superintendent Wilfredo Laboy said.

In Lynn, about a dozen of the 60 teachers evaluated so far may not be fluent and will be tested further, Deputy Superintendent Ray Bastarache said.

Worcester schools Deputy Superintendent Stephen Mills said the district has about 15 teachers who must be tested because of questionable English skills.

The English immersion law, a ballot initiative passed by voters in November, eliminated bilingual education programs, except for students who obtain waivers. New ''sheltered English immersion'' programs allow instructors to speak other languages to assist students, but the courses are taught in English.

The new law also gives school districts until Aug. 30 to prove teachers are proficient in English, though teachers for the remaining bilingual classes are exempt.

The state Department of Education recommends various methods of determining proficiency, such as the classroom screenings Laboy oversaw in Lawrence. If a teacher's proficiency is in question after the initial review, the state suggests an oral test be given by outside evaluators. The test measures the speaker's ability to use English in real-life situations.

The state has not tracked the total number of teachers being evaluated, or the results, but is instead pushing districts to complete the testing, said Kimberly Beck, a Department of Education spokeswoman.

Beck said districts decide whether to fire teachers and some plan intensive English assistance programs, such as ''sabbaticals'' for teachers on the brink.

Laboy said he's ''lost a lot of sleep'' thinking about possibly firing teachers who don't get past the second exam, saying some have worked in the heavily Hispanic system for decades and teach a range of grades and subjects.

Still, Laboy said, ''I have a professional and moral responsibility to put certified and qualified teachers in front of the classroom.''

Districts hired teachers who couldn't adequately speak English because growing ethnic populations had to be educated, but there were few qualified bilingual teachers to do it, said Claretha Coleman, director of personnel at the Springfield public schools. She added Springfield has less than 10 teachers who need testing.

''We really shouldn't let it happen at all,'' Coleman said. ''Sometimes a principal needs a person who's bilingual. So we take that person.''

Lynn's Bastarache said the district hired many of the teachers now under review after a large influx of immigrants from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

''We were desperate for people,'' he said. ''Quite frankly, they bailed us out.''

Urban school districts such as Lynn are always going to have newcomers and are always going to need teachers who speak their language, Bastarache said. The law is the law, he said, but added, ''Fairness and common sense have to apply.''

With jobs and careers at stake, Laura Barrett of the Massachusetts Teachers Association said teachers should have every chance to prove their language skills, and the union will study each case on an individual basis to ensure fired teachers are treated fairly. She added that the MTA ''absolutely believes teachers should be fluent in English.''

''We would want to help them to make sure they had all the opportunities to meet standards,'' she said. ''In the end, the law would be the law.'' want to help them to make sure they had all the opportunities to meet standards,'' she said. ''In the end, the law would be the law.''