Members Step Down in Protest, Citing Concerns Over Impact on English Language Education in the City
In a significant shake-up, eight members of the Boston Public Schools‘ English Learners Task Force tendered their resignations on Tuesday, denouncing the district’s recently unveiled plan for integrating English language learners into general education classrooms. The controversial move, labeled “ill-advised” and “harmful” by the departing members, has sparked a fierce debate over the future of language education in the city.
The resignations follow the introduction of the “Inclusive Education Plan” by BPS two weeks ago. Rather than receiving instruction in their native language, English language learners will now be integrated into regular classes, with English as a Second Language support provided as needed.
Maria Serpa, a resigning member, expressed concerns that the new plan would not enhance educational outcomes for the nearly 15,000 BPS students who are English language learners. She argued that the shift jeopardizes their ability to excel in reading, learn English effectively, and grasp subjects like math and science.
“It’s compromising their opportunities to learn to read well in English, to learn English well, to learn math, to learn science,” Serpa asserted. “I profoundly believe that’s immoral because it’s harming their future in terms of not only finishing school but being able to have a job and being able to read and write as they are entitled to.”
The task force members conveyed their dissent in a letter to school officials, highlighting the shift away from expanding access to instruction in students’ native languages. They declared a fundamental divide between EL Task Force leaders and BPS leaders, leading to their decision to resign.
Members, comprising learning specialists and academics, emphasized that research supports teaching English language learners in their native language. They expressed concerns that the new plan could result in “more disciplinary challenges in schools and increased drop-out rates for the one-third of BPS students who are classified as English learners.”
BPS spokesperson Max Baker thanked the resigning members for their years of service but stressed that the status quo is not effective for multilingual learners. He defended the Inclusive Education Plan as a “roadmap for making these long-overdue systemic changes.”
The Inclusive Education Plan was introduced at the October 18 school committee meeting, part of BPS’s broader effort to rebuild its special education and multilingual programs. The task force, formed in 2009, was a response to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation that found the district failed to provide English learners with specialized instruction.
The eight resigning task force members, including co-chair Suzanne Lee and researchers Maria Serpa, Rosann Tung, and Miren Uriarte, argue that the new plan is counterproductive and will exacerbate an already challenging problem. With approximately 90% of English learners failing the state’s annual MCAS examinations, they fear the outcomes will worsen under the new approach.
Fabián Torres-Ardila of UMass Boston’s Gastón Institute echoed these concerns, pointing out that the new plan introduces additional obstacles for students, requiring them to learn both English and academic content in English, a task made more challenging by the lack of bilingual teachers in general education.
The controversy surrounding the new plan for English learners in Boston Public Schools raises critical questions about the intersection of language education, inclusivity, and the efficacy of systemic changes in the educational landscape.
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