My Perspective on the English Language Learner Proposal

By Madison Metropolitan School District Board member Anna Mueller Moffit — Currently, the Board of Education is reviewing and gathering input about our district's English Language Learner Plan (ELL) which will provide a comprehensive approach to serve our students that do not have English as their native language. [https://multilingual.madison.k12.wi.us/draft-english-language-learner-plan] This is a multi-faceted plan which includes an emphasis on Bilingual Education. This proposal has the potential to better serve our ELL students through increased professional development and collaboration, enhanced family engagement, and stronger English as a Second Language (ESL) instructional practices and more consistent Bilingual Education programs. As a Board member, I will be expected to vote on this plan in the near future. 

Throughout my career, whether teaching in the classroom, as a family advocate or a board member, my work has been deeply rooted in the belief that all students, regardless of their background, deserve opportunities to succeed and prepare for the next step. I am committed to transparently and effectively focusing on issues like budgeting in our schools in an equitable manner that serves all students, as well as developing policies that ensure underserved students are not segregated away from advanced or integrated learning. 

I do believe that bilingual education has many benefits. It can promote learning to read and write in a student’s native language which can lead to earlier development of academic language for non-English students. It provides the opportunity for families that have been historically under-served in our district to be better included and empowered in their child’s education. It can also prepare our students to be prepared for living in a multi-global society where bilingualism is an asset. However, I do have some concerns regarding our district’s current DLI programs, as well as the approach for the expansion of Dual Language Immersion in our district. These concerns require greater access to district data and more inclusive community feedback before adopting a final plan. 

First, I will request that the administration provide longitudinal and qualitative data in order to demonstrate the efficacy of the DLI program for our Spanish speaking students, non-Spanish speaking students, as well as other English Language Learners in our district. Although some national research has shown DLI to be an effective model, we need to see the desired results for our students within our district. The limited quantitative data available  -- such as only 7% of Middle School students in DLI meeting the “proficient” level on MAP tests  --  raises serious questions.  Anecdotal data provided by some school staff have shown mixed results, so it will be critical to have fuller academic data, behavioral data and school climate information made available to the Board of Education prior to any vote. I will need this data to understand whether this program is actually effective for our students, particularly our Spanish-speaking students.  I will also need evidence to establish whether or not this program has been detrimental to our students who attend schools where DLI is offered, but do not participate in the DLI program. 

I have significant concerns about the expansion of the DLI strand programs due to the disproportionality of students not participating in our district’s current DLI strand schools. This program has been implemented in our district for almost ten years and has led to the unintended consequence of increased segregation within our schools that provide this program.  Based on the district data, the following groups have not been proportionally represented within our current DLI program over the past decade: non-Spanish speaking English Language Learners, African-American students, students who receive free and reduced lunch, and students with disabilities We must ensure that we are doing everything we can to avoid restricting or preventing, even if unintentionally, a certain student’s opportunity to special programming, or an inclusive classroom. As a Board member, I plan to request that there be strong measures adopted which will prevent unequal student participation in our district’s current DLI programs. 

Finally, I will be reaching out to community members to gather their input about the overall proposal, including the expansion of DLI into new schools. After reviewing outreach sessions conducted by the district, these have been done almost exclusively with families of students that speak Spanish as their native language or students currently enrolled in our DLI program. I believe this program impacts all students in our district, therefore, all families need to be included in this discussion. I will seek input in particular from the families that have students in the groups that have not been proportionally represented within our current DLI program, as listed above.

The Madison community has been very supportive of  providing our students with a high-quality education within an inclusive classroom setting. We value public schools that offer equitable access to the resources that provide every student the opportunity to learn. As our community moves forward in reviewing and improving this initial proposal, we will need all community members engaged in the discussion, regardless of personal circumstance. As an elected official, I want to hear from the public, including community members, family members, staff and students, about their thoughts, ideas and concerns in regard to the current ELL proposal. 

As Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, who specializes in outreach to under-represented communities at UW Extension, states in his recent letter to Madison 365:

“We need to bring all those affected together to work with the district and Board of Education to develop solutions — solutions that reflect the best and most relevant research, what we learn from studying our own schools, and the vision for our schools that we develop together.”

I am hopeful that we can move forward together on this proposal and create a plan that will be the best for all students in our district.

The next discussion of the ELL proposal by the Board will be Monday, October 9, at 6pm in room 110 of the Doyle Administration Building, 545 W. Dayton St. in Madison.