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
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
''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
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.''