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THE Center for Publ icPol icy Priorities WELCOMES “Family Security in a Time of Uncertainty” November 12, 2001 1:30 State Theater 719 Congress. Austin. TX DISCUSSION WITH BETTY SUE FLOWERS TO FOLI OW Tickets: $10/$5 for students Call 320 -0222 xl 14 or buy online at the district. Year after year, TAAS scores were low, and there was a dissatisfaction with various styles of bilingual programs and a sense among teachers and administrators that an alternative might help raise achievement while accomplishing the broader goals of bilingualism. But dual language has not taken hold in La Pryor, despite the federal money and despite the best intentions of its sponsors. A July 2001 report by the state comptroller’s office, which performs periodic audits of school districts, found enough problems in La Pryor to waylay dual language or any other program, including low morale, high turnover, a contentious and micromanaging school board, financial mismanagement, and low test scores. Only 49.7 percent of all students passed the TAAS in 2000 compared to a statewide average of 79.9 percent. In visiting La Pryor and speaking with administrators and teachers, I detected a sense of shame and defeat there, and some confusion.Teachers like Linda Valdez and Martha Gonzales said that they are reading aloud in Spanish for about 30 minutes at the end of the day and use Spanish occasionally to talk to Spanish dominant students. They readily admit that the goal of dual language immersion has contracted to become English with a bit of Spanish sprinkled in. Scores are up in some areas of the TAAS, particularly among Spanish dominant children, but perhaps not enough to save the program. Since the dual language program began in La Pryor five years ago, five superintendents and three elementary school principals have come and gone. Like many small, property-poor districts it has trouble retaining teachers because of what the jobs pay; La Pryor offers just above $24,000 for a beginning teacher. Bilingual teachers get an additional $1,500, but that’s still not enough to compete with neighboring districts, much less cities like San Antonio or Austin. Only five of the original twelve elementary teachers who were there when the program started remain, and many of the elementary teachers who are expected to teach in both languages are not genuinely fluent in both. “When the teacher is bilingual, we see results,” said Diana Perez. “Only about a third of our teachers are true bilinguals and so Spanish is now secondary in the classroom, not equal with English.” Teachers already on edge wonder whether trying to teach in two languages will further set back the district’s test scores. “We feel a lot of pressure from TAAS,” Valdez said. “Everyone is asking, ‘How will this help me raise scores?'” When I first spoke with her, in September, Perez assumed that the dual language program would be shut down after the grant money runs out in June 2002. By mid-October, she thought the school board might agree to restructure the program and continue with fewer students and teachers. A final decision probably won’t take place until next spring. Eddie Ramirez, the current superintendent, and Jina Piccini, elementary school principal, declined to comment for this story. Yet even though dual language at La Pryor has all but capsized, no one there is suggesting a return to the old days of bilingual education. Perhaps they will find a middle ground with a dual language program expressly for Spanish dominant children and voluntary for everyone else. Meanwhile, inYsleta a few weeks ago, Miguel Angel Rosales, a teacher from Mexico, listened and corrected as a few dozen junior high students performed skits in Spanish. It was impossible to tell which of the students were Spanish dominant and which were English dominant. The students all giggled and backed into the Water fountain and enjoyed exaggerating certain parts. Everyone could speak both languages, separately when they were performing, mixed together in a happy jumble when they were talking among themselves. Bob Schulte likes to emphasize the egalitarian nature of dual language instruction. Everyone has something to teach everyone else. Language is not a barrier between groups, but a shared challenge. “Vamos a presentar our play,” said one student performer. “Did you memorize sus lineas, ya?” Belle Zars is a writer living in San Antonio. 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11/9/01