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A group of Latino parents showed up at this week’s meeting of the Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board to express their disappointment in the district’s Two-Way Immersion Program (TWI) that is designed, in part, to help Spanish-speaking students overcome their language barrier to learning in the district’s schools.

Speaking to a full house of more than 100 observers present at the meeting, the parents, many speaking in halting English, complained that their students had been placed in the TWI program without their approval and that it hampered their ability to master the English language.

Their remarks took many of the board members by surprise, and the parents left the meeting with assurances that the board would evaluate the effectiveness of the program, including the process by which students are admitted to the program.

The gist of the comments from parents was that they feel their kids would learn English faster if they were totally immersed in the language, rather than having a Spanish-speaking teacher providing some of the instruction.

A mother who lives on Dobson Street with her three children said, “I want my children to learn English. They need English to advance in a career in this country.”

The mother of an entering kindergarten student said her child was tested and found deficient in English and was automatically assigned to the TWI program.

The TWI program was started in the district in 2001 and has grown from one to five schools: Dawes, Dewey, Oakton, Washington, and Willard. Approximately half the students in each classroom are English-speaking and half are Spanish-speaking. The goal is to help each language group become proficient in the other language.

One of the Latino parents told the Board that it was her impression that the English-speaking students were gaining more from the program than were the native Spanish speakers.

In the board responses to the public comments, Richard Rykhus said he was aware of the parents’ concerns, particularly the process of placing students in the program, and that he would urge the board to add an evaluation of the TWI program to its upcoming calendar.

Subsequently the board did tentatively slot that discussion into one of their March 2013 meetings, although the complete calendar of board topics has not yet been finalized.

Kim Weaver said it was her hope that a Latino parent would consider running for the school board in the April 2013 elections.

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said that parents do have a choice about whether their students are admitted to the TWI program, but acknowledged that “we may have to look at that process.”
 

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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24 Comments

  1. TWI and District 65

    “I want my children to learn English. They need English to advance in a career in this country.”

    I feel the same way about my English-as-a-first language children.  The majority language in this country is going to remain English and in order for students to advance in school, they need to be in full control of English.

    Before TWI, the ESL program integrated non-English speakers by 3rd grade.

    American students studying abroad in Europe and Japan enter language immersion programs and learn quickly.  Elementary school students pick up a different language even more quickly.

  2. TWI is not woking for Latino kids

    It's not a surprise that Latino families are upset. The TWI program has been great for non Latino kids, the select few, as they have mastered Spanish, a 2nd language.

    Maybe D65 should repurpose the classrooms (there are several devoted to TWI) to kids who cannot seem to master the basics: reading and math.

    1. not so great for non-latino kids, actually

      We desparately wanted our kids in TWI and did not win the "random" draw.  Yes, the quotations are to indicate that I do not think the process is random at all.  But, many of our friends' kids got in as Native-English speakers and to a parent, they all are disappointed (kids who just finished 9th and 7th grades).  Their kids are NOT fluent and the high school expereince has been awful.  They certainly have a TON more Spanish than my kid, but I'm not so sure it has great for Native English speakers based on the parents of TWI kids I know.  So yeah.  Time to evaluate.

      1. TWI — very pleased with the program

        Our native English-speaking children have had fabulous, devoted teachers in the TWI program.  Our children are doing very well in all of their subject areas, including Spanish.  As a bonus:  they converse easily with native Spanish speakers and want to continue studying the language as they continue in school.

        So TWI has been a great experience for our children and our entire family.  We are very glad that we have participated in this program because not only have our children acquired a second language, we have met some lovely Evanston families whom we would not have otherwise met.  And we are not "connected" to anyone in Evanston or District 65 — no strings that we could pull, even if we wanted to.  But our first child was still chosen in the lottery for TWI so at least some part of the process must be random.

        It is wise for the District 65 administration to perform a rotating review of the elementary school programs — General Education, TWI and the Afro-centric Curriculum program.  I am not surprised that District 65 is failing to administer TWI as it should be with voluntary participation, as well as timely information to parents on whether the family's child(ren) would benefit from participating in TWI. 

        In other school districts, TWI has been proven to be the most effective method of having native Spanish speakers acquire English at a high level while not losing their knowledge of the Spanish language.  My question (as with many things concerning my children's education):  what's happening at District 65?  Why aren't the TWI results here as positive as other districts?

  3. We share these parents’ concerns!

    As parents to 2 children, both in Evanston public schools, my husband and I can sympathize with these parents and share their concerns as to how the TWI program is administered and who, really, it is serving.

    My husband and I were shocked to receive a letter from District 65 "strongly" suggesting that our daughter be placed in the TWI program, NOT at her current school where there is already a program in place, but at another school – immediately – literally, in the middle of the 2011-12 school year.

    When we registered this child for kindergarten we disclosed on our forms that a second language was spoken in our home. This language is "spoken" by using a variety of phrases I learned when living abroad. I've never spoken the language fluently nor have I educated my children in this language. Other than the phrases I use, mostly in public to capture their attention, we do not "speak" this language. I disclosed this because my youngest has a natural affinity for repeating and remembering these phrases.  In the event she heard an English phrase that registered in her brain as the foreign language one, I didn't want anyone being surprised if she uttered it out loud. In hindsight, I should have just kept this detail off the registration forms.

    It took until our child had been in the school system for 2.5 years before the school district came into her school to "test" her English abilities. This was done without our knowledge or permission; it took 1.5 days and the first we heard of it was when the district sent us the letter "strongly" suggesting the child be enrolled in the TWI program.

    When I spoke with Yesenia Vázquez, at the district, she informed me that our child had "failed" the written component of the English tests administered. Upon hearing this, I asked her to acquire all the test results as well as to speak with the tester, to determine exactly what happened during the testing process. What we heard shocked us more than the letter. It seems the district's tester spent a half day with our child and those tests she passed. The tester then spent a full day with her and when it came time to administer the written test, the tester asked our child if she wanted to take the test. After 5+ hours of being tested, our child opted out of the written test. Seeing as she now "failed" this test, the district felt it was necessary to "immediately" place her into a TWI program classroom.

    Apart from the deplorable management of this situation, from NOT informing us of the intent to remove our child from her classroom for 1.5 days to ASKING her if she wanted to take a test, we are truly dismayed that it took the district 2.5 YEARS to get around to testing our child. Had she been a child for whom the English language is a struggle, how could she possibly have navigated for 2.5 years without assistance. When Yesenia Vázquez was questioned as to why it took 2.5 years to test her, she could offer no reasonable answer, in fact, she offered no answer at all, just stumbled over suggestions as to how the district missed this information on her registration form.

    When Yesenia Vázquez and I arrived at the point in our conversation where it became evident that my husband and I would not be placing our child in the TWI program, I was told I had to sign a document declining the school's services as the State's educational department could audit the district's documents and there would have to be clear notes on the offer of the TWI program and our decision to decline it. How interesting; perhaps the district is facing an audit soon?

    Although I wrote a letter to Yesenia Vázquez, as well as the program director and Dr. Hardy Murphy, no one from the district contacted us to discuss our concerns.

    So who, really, is this program serving? If it takes the district 2.5 years to get around to testing a dual-language home child's abilities, why bother? Why take them out of class for 1.5 days and then give them options on whether or not to take the required tests? Why not contact the parents to discuss the registration paperwork information and also observe the child in the classroom setting as well as discuss the child's abilities with their teacher(s)? Why have the TWI program at all if in fact, it is not truly serving the needs of children for whom English is a second language? And finally, with all the languages being spoken in our community, is offering only a single TWI language option the best option – maybe it's time to reconsider this program, its administration and whether there are still benefits to TWI in our schools.

  4. Of course we know why they have TWI

    They have it so they can boost the number of teacher, increase their budget and relieve 'white guilt.'

    If they keep children dependent on them [teachers and administrators] they keep their jobs. 

    Getting students of any language profficient in English as quickly as possible is to the benefit of the child, not the benefit of the teachers/administration.

    Learning a second language is great but inventing programs like TWI for Spanish children and black centered studies are just means of saying these students cannot really progress so we give them what they can handle.

    TWI to get a second language would be great if the purpose was was really for the second [non-English] language.  What about TWI in French, German, Russian, Chineses ?

    1. Why we have TWI?

      Personally I suspect it is as stong of a program as it is because many English speakig parents see it as enrichment for their "gifted" children and have pushed hard to grow the program.  The Spanish speaking kids need to be placed in TWI to support the demand of the English speaking kids. 

      On a side note, there sure seem to be a disproportionate number of board members with their kids in TWI. 

    2. Actually …

      When TWI was introduced in our school as a pilot program, the then bilingual coordinator for the district, Judy Yturriago, came and had quite a good discussion with our PTA.   Our principal, who had work experience in other school districts, was and is very supportive.  The rationale was as follows:

      1.  The district has a legal obligation to teach English to Spanish speakers.

      2.  Of the several possible models, research shows that Two Way Immersion has better student achievement at the end of 8th grade than One Way Immersion or English as a Second Language.

      3.  Research demonstrates that Spanish and English speakers in TWI fall behind their peers in Gen Ed in tests of English proficiency in the middle years of TWI (I think grades 2-4), but end up far ahead of their peers by 7th or 8th grade. 

      4.  The TWI program aims to teach literacy, math, and other skills in each child's primary language, and once those are established, transfers those skills to the secondary language.   Presumably the parents are better able to offer support at home in the language spoken by the family to assure basic skill building first before pushing the kids to master the secondary language. 

      5.  Two common concerns articulated around TWI programs are Spanish speaking parents concerned about not jumping right into English and all TWI parents concerned about the predicted achievement dip in  the middle years.  It sounds like D65 is right on target on this front.

      Either D65 has forgotten the reason TWI was introduced in the first place, or it is just doing a really bad job of communicating the research behind the program.  Perhaps the research folks at D65 and D202 can compare the performance at ETHS of Spanish speakers who went through TWI and those who did not and share that information with the community.

      Of course it's also possible that the administration is not sharing this information because some of the less effective models are less costly and it wants to get rid of the TWI program in favor of a cheaper alternative.

      1. The downfall of TWI

        TWI started out strong. The problem is that as each person has left the position, the position has changed ever so slightly. Dr. Yturriago retired and it went from being a director position to a coordinator position. Then, Sarah Mendez, current principal at Nichols, was coordinator. After she left, it became a "bilingual facilitator" position. This meant that they were not treating the position as a real administrator position.  In other words, they were able to pay someone less and have more control over it.  The person who was in charge who I understand has now left, probably did as they were told.

        The problem is Dr. Murphy allowing for these changes in position roles to happen. TWI was strong and had excellent results in the beginning. If we want it to succeed, we need to put someone in charge of it that understands the process, the selection, the program and the philosophy behing the program.  I wonder who will be their new replacement…hopefully somebody who will be able to take charge and put it back on the right path.

  5. Transparency?

    Where is the transparency? What is the process? How is the selection exactly made? ALL great questions. Perhaps whatever department makes these selections needs to explain how students are actually selected.  A lottery? A bit more explanation is really what we all need. Perhaps it becomes a public lottery. Names are drawn in front of everyone at a board meeting, like some of the charter schools do around the country. THAT is a TRUE lottery. THAT is transparency.

    And as far as the TWI or ACC classes, why don't board members or some of our district administrators visit the classrooms to see what is actually goin on? Spend a few days, look at what they are doing with our kids, and experience it instead of reading some report made by people who only know what they are told…..

    Transperancy is what we have asked for and we have never gotten it from the current D65 leadership. It has been about a decade of this nonsense and I don't see schools improving.

    Teachers are asked for more "data" all the time and are expected to show growth and show how they have made these positive changes for students. Lets hold the big wigs accountable too. Do they even know what a teachers day looks like? When was the last time THEY ever taught, or wait, DID they even ever teach? What is their background that makes them experts and decision makers? How about they shadow a teacher or even a student and see what 10 periods really looks like, or wait, maybe they should experience 25 minutes to eat with a 10 minute break outside.  Or perhaps they need to travel to 2-3 schools a few times a week and try to teach art or music or fine arts. Do you think they would be able to handle it?

    It is time for BIG changes, starting with the top and all of his cabinet members feeding him all this garbage.

    Hopefully, this change will come soon…….a clean sweep is what we need. We need to continue to show up to board meetings and let board members know that this is NOT acceptable!

    1. Board Members time in classrooms ?

      The author, implicitly brings up a good point.

      How many days a month are the Board members [including superintent] spending in classrooms to see how good the teachers are, how good the design programs are and in general how well the schools work.

      Have the Board members and Principals tried to follow [i.e. try for themself] the programs to see if they really learn.

      If they have all this power to make decisions and spend money, they should certainly be in the classrooms seeing how effective the schools are.

  6. TWI and District 65 evaluation systems

    The issues raised in this discussion again point to a broad need for D65 to set objectives and measures of effectiveness for each of our major programs and systematically review and evaluate our progress against those objectives which can include both quantitative and qualitative inputs.

    It seems that we put programs in motion without ongoing evaluation that is considered and reviewed at the governance level by the Board.

    Perhaps this evaluation happens at some level but the high level review should be sheparded by the Board going forward.

    1. evaluation and comparison

      This is exactly right — evaluation should be built into new programs and, in the case of this district, perhaps contracted out to objective evaluators rather than being done in-house.  "Evaluation" includes not just test scores, but interviews with parents of students in and out of the program, an audit of the cost to the district, etc.  

      And with TWI, you have to remember to ask, "compared to what?"  So if Spanish speakers are not doing as well as we thought they might, that is not the right comparison.  It is compared to what they WOULD have received if not for TWI.  Which (I believe) is either full immersion in English-only classrooms which can be very difficult or the old billingual education model which also was systematically failing these kids.

      But these are complicated issues and the adminsitration cannot even do the right kind of PR to get people to want to enroll their Spanish-speaking kids.  They can't even convince folks that a random draw is occurring.  If they can't do these relatively simple parts of the process, how can we expect them to get the complicated assessment part of this right?  

      Sadly, I don't think any innovative programming will work in this district until we have new leadership and by that I mean Superintendent.  And the new person is going to need a very supportive Board, because he or she will need to do a lot of cleaning house. 

  7. Sticking by a ideas that do not work out

    TWI seemed like a good idea at the start, but not all good-sounding ideas work out.

    The problem is that the district, and Hardy Murphy specifically, invest their reputation in the idea so much that they cannot back down from it when things do not work out.

    For example, if there is not enough take-up from Spanish-speaking kids to make a strand work, then the administration can either A) say, "Oh well, I guess it does not work out in this case.  Let's remove this strand from the program," or B) Jam Spanish-speaking students into it without the parents or kids really understanding.

    Option A is clearly better for the public, but it results in embarrassment to the administration. Option B saves face for the administration … at least until enough families have been mistreated until a bunch of them show up at a board meeting and complain.

    A strong leader can admit that things do not always work and make the right adjustments. A weak leader has to cover up the problems and hope he does not get caught. D65 has weak leadership.

    1. Are you kidding?

      Plan A would NEVER happen.  Can you imagine the uproar from the English speaking kid's parents if their strand were removed?  At least three of those parents are board members.  This has nothing to do with the administration's desire for TWI but the demand for bilingual education for English speaking kids. 

      1. What about other TWI ?

        What about TWI for German, French, Russian, Chinese ?   Why is only Spanish being provided ?

        These and a few other languages are the ones students will need in under-grad and graduate work not to speak of the areas of research we can hope they will go into.

         The current TWI and ethnic based curriculum is just an upper-class angst over those who they do not think can learn and so is offered as a sop to them.

        1. Don’t lump TWI with ACC

          The two-way immersion program has demonstrated long-standing, positive results in many school districts for helping native Spanish-speaking children acquire English at a high level, while not losing their abilities in Spanish.  Hundreds of children (and their families) have benefited from this program in District 65.  It sounds like the central administration is failing to administer the program as it needs to be.

          The Afro-centric Curriculum program in District 65 is a sop.  No disagreement there.  As implemented here, the approach was not proven anywhere else.  I attended the school board meetings where the ACC program was "discussed" and approved.  Reason was not used — it was all emotion with no dissent tolerated. 

          As implemented here, the ACC program is failing the children who need the district's very best program to help them read and use math skills at least at grade level.  Time for District 65 to serve these children and end the ACC program in the best interest of the children enrolled in that program.

           

           

  8. Research base on TWI

    I served as a speech-language pathologist for a school that housed a TWI program.    TWI has all the research support behind it for spanish speaking kids.   The objective is to teach children to read in their primary language, and then bridge the gap into the second language- With the bonus being that native speaking English kids learn foreign language, and primary spanish speakers are accepted into the community of the school and seen as "experts."     TWI also is the best way to respect other languages/cultures, as it gives both English/second language "power."  

       Murphy and the board need to do a better job of explaining the merits of this program to the Spanish speaking families.  Ultimately though, parents should have a right to chose for their own children.  The comments from some posts about kids being tested without parent consent is appauling. This clearly violates your rights as a parent- If your child was special education, you could sue the district, as for special ed. you need consent for any special testing.  

    With this being said, the downfall of TWI is that it is often difficult to staff with highly qualifed teachers.   In my old district, we were recruiting in Spain as we couldn't find enough qualified staff.  In my experience, TWI had some of the very best staffing and some of the very worst.   I do not know how D65 staffs, but this is a major concern- Kids learn better with excellent teachers and if I had to choose, I would rather have ENglish only with an excellent teacher than TWI with a second rate bilingual teacher.   If D65 is recruiting the later to fill the positions, I can understand why parents are upset.  If not, then administration needs to do a better job reaching out to the parents, and selling this program to the community.

     

  9. History of TWI in D65

    When TWI came to D65 in 2001, it was brought here because of the large and growing Spanish speaking population in Evanston.  There are no other TWI programs in the district that teach anything except Spanish/English because we don't have a big influx of say, German or Chinese or Japanese, to support even a whole classroom.  There is ESL programming in D65 for kids who come in speaking other languages.

    Anyway, the Two Way Immersion method is not unique to this district and is widely accepted and proven extremely successful as the way to have limited English proficient students learn English while also being instructed in their native language.  The highly respected Inter-American Magnet School in Chicago is a very good example of how sucessful TWI can be. 

    Test scores for TWI kids are always lower in the beginning and then after they become English proficient, their scores tend to meet and exceed standards.  The native Spanish speakers consistently test higher then their counterparts that aren't in the program. The key is that it takes a few years and it sounds as if the district doesn't do a very good job explaining the workings of the program to parents. 

    I also want to say that when TWI came to the district, one of the schools it was at was Walker.  The decision was made to switch it to Willard as a way to increase diversity there.  Walker did not want to lose the program and Willard did not want it to come to them.  The fight became pretty ugly on Willard's part. 

    TWI ended up at Willard anyway and I guess now that parents see the benefits of their kids learning Spanish, they don't mind having it anymore.  Point is, it was in no way brought to this district so that English speakers could have their kids placed in a "special program." 

    I think TWI is a very valuable program and it would be a shame to lose it.  I hope the district takes this opportunity to look at ways to improve communication with parents and to make sure the curriculum is being delivered correctly. 

     

    1. Equal assess to multiple TWI

      You say:

      "TWI programs in the district that teach anything except Spanish/English because we don't have a big influx of say, German or Chinese or Japanese, to support even a whole classroom."

      ================================

      Have you not seen the number of Chinese or other Asian children in Evanston ?  If you imply they don't need TWI is that because their parents insist they learn English quickly so they can keep-up/exceed in their classes ?  Do you imply Spanish families do not care and do not take the same steps as Asian parents ?  Why is it always assumed Spainish speaking adults/children are not capable of learning like other groups ?  Just like the condensation white liberals show for blacks, they now show for Latinos.

      From the write-ups it seems the schools are trying to get English speaking students into Spainish TWI for a second language.  Why not provide these English speaking students TWI in German, French, Chinese, Russian, etc. instead of Spainish ?

      When most of us learned other languages, except for reading level for graduate school, the instruction went rapidly to all the foreign language.  Most of the top programs do one way immersion and that intense—I realize 'intense' probably does not work for very young children but immersion does.

      1. “Just like the condensation

        "Just like the condensation white liberals show for blacks, they now show for Latinos."

         

        Don't rain on MY parade!!!

      2. Just the facts

        I'm basing my information on facts.  You can look up the same info on the Illinois School Report Card website.  In D65, 18.5% of the students are Hispanic and 4.6% are Asian.

        I imply nothing about how different cultures help their children learn English because I don't know enough to say anything about that.  I just know that TWI is a proven, extremely effective method to learn English and that there is a large enough population of Hispanics in the district to have the program.  TWI eventually gets better literacy and English proficiency results than one-way immersion.  Period.

        I also know that the district could do a better job explaining the program to parents.  I think they realize that now and will hopefully act accordingly.  My kids aren't in TWI, but I think it's a valuable program that the district should keep.  It would be great to have TWI programs for different languages in the district, but the populations aren't large enough. 

  10. Testing for TWI

     agree 100% that students should never be tested without the parent's consent.  Shame on the testing coordinator and the bilinugal teacher leader.  I hear both of those positions are posted since those employess have moved on to other positions or districts.  

    Lastly, parents always have the right to waive services and many do.  That's okay, it is their choice as parents.    There are many other Latino children that their parent's want them to be in this program.  

    What I have seen at my children's school and as they go up in the grades, TWI Latino children are succeeding and doing well.  They are becoming bilingual, and I thinkn the tests scores have shown that.  But, I think it would be great for the district to create a report on TWI Latino students that are now in highschool and see how they are doing.  It would be interesting to see and either prove or dimiss this program.  

    Lastly, let's not forget.  The district is OBLIGATED bylaw to service these students in their native language.  TWI is the most economical way to do this.

  11. Spanish language art

    "Lastly, let's not forget.  The district is OBLIGATED bylaw to service these students in their native language.  TWI is the most economical way to do this"

    When TWI was introduced – the primary motivation was reducing costs and meeting the needs of an increasing population.

    The district IS obligated by law.  There are a number of ways in which it can be done but TWI is the most economical and has many social, emotional benefits.   I agree with the writer – hire a strong independent leader for TWI and let's see if it can shine.   It should.

    Regarding parents who's kids speak English and participate in TWI – good for them!

    Can we stop throwing around the word "gifted" for anyone who wants their child to recieve the best this district has to offer?   There are no "gifted" programs here.   Wanting your child to have a second language in this day and age seems like common sense.   Being fluent is Spanish is something we should want for ALL our children..   

    The more important questions is – why is this opportunity limited to those kids who can get into TWI?   Someone will say it's money.   I think it's priorities and creativity that's lacking.

    Hey – why don't we have the kids receive art in Spanish spoken classes?

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