Commentary

Colleen Minton: Dual-language expansion is not the problem

January 3, 2014 

Overcrowding at Glenwood Elementary, after recent redistricting, has been inaccurately pinned on the Mandarin Dual Language (MDL) program. Despite extensive vetting of the program over the last two years by the CHCCS Board, a plethora of inaccurate data circulating throughout the community is unnecessarily pitting parents across the district against MDL.

It’s completely understandable that parents feel their community school population is being threatened by potential spot re-districting or even the possibility of this program moving into their school, but attacking MDL is not the solution. And using outdated and completely inaccurate data to bolster the argument is wrong. And shame on anyone for offering outdated data as current and targeting a program committed to one minority population over another.

There is also something to be said for what makes this district unique and attractive; and the ideals supported by our school board and administration include many programs that may not be considered “equal opportunity” by all. However, the combination of offerings we have in this system are an enormous differentiator.

My husband and I moved our children from Atlanta and many of the programs we take for granted in our CHCCS elementary schools – music, art, world languages, PE and science – have been virtually eliminated in many districts across the country. Offerings like dual language, middle school sports, and LEAP aren’t available beyond a private education in many systems, but these represent the programs that stand out, engage our children, and give unusual opportunity to children in our district – an opportunity we should all fight to keep and shouldn’t undervalue as a community.

Most will concur that MDL meets the goal of “preparing our children with a 21st century education,” but will argue it doesn’t meet the goal of “closing the achievement gap.” I encourage anyone that believes that to seek out and read the compelling evidence outlined in more than 50 studies across the globe. In fact, out of all the programs we have available to our students, dual language in any language is the most compelling in narrowing the achievement gap.

I’ve heard an inaccurate reference to Spanish being more effective than Mandarin, but it’s just not true. The Spanish program addresses a higher “at-risk” population with the native-speaking applicants, but it doesn’t prevent the need for additional ESL services, and the native speakers only account for half the population. The Spanish program has been around for 12 years (as has the MDL) and 11 of those years didn’t offer open enrollment across the district. The non-native populations (half of each classroom) were made up of non-native speakers in communities like Southern Village and downtown Carrboro. Not exactly low income. MDL has offered open enrollment across the entire district since its inception, thereby offering opportunity to “at-risk” populations in all communities within CHCCS for 12 years.

The bottom-line is that MDL is a valuable program to our district and has a great opportunity to address narrowing the achievement gap. Independent consultants, hired six years ago by the board to analyze both DL programs, said expanding both programs would save considerable dollars, make the programs more efficient, and expand opportunities to more of the students that need and want those opportunities. By expanding the program, there are more slots and by marketing the program in pre-Ks across the district, there is a huge opportunity for those non-native speaking slots to be filled by our students that need it most.

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