After reading articles on the MMSD’s new Dual Language Immersion Plan, I am writing as a parent with 15 years of personal and professional experience working with those helping marginalized children succeed in schools —and need to share my thoughts about the plan and its potential effect on our schools. My primary concern is ensuring inclusive community engagement of all those impacted and the need for comprehensive evaluation to achieve positive results.
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting at Thoreau Elementary School where Madison Metropolitan School District staff and others presented the district’s plan to expand the current Dual Language Immersion (DLI) program to address educational disparities experienced by Latino students in our district. While the district acknowledged some negative impacts that DLI has had on African American and special education students, they offered little in the way of solutions. Having witnessed the benefits of my children learning a second language, I am personally in favor of DLI programs for all students. Even so, I believe the plan put forward is not sufficient because it needs to engage all school staff, students and families impacted by DLI.
Development of a plan to address educational disparities for English Language Learners (ELL) offers an opportunity to evaluate and learn from our current efforts. The district has an obligation to evaluate these efforts to understand their efficacy for ELL students and the impact on other students — especially for African American students, students with disabilities and other vulnerable students experiencing disparities in our district.
Given the pervasive and persistent racial disparities that exist here, whenever we introduce or expand programs, we must continually assess how they affect our most vulnerable students and families. This is about recognizing the interdependent nature of the work that we do in schools and the issues affecting students. We need to create comprehensive approaches that benefit all students and families, that center equity if not justice, and that we ground in the circumstances and realities of our district.
To accomplish this, we need better ideas and in my experience, the best ideas come when diverse groups of people who share common or related concerns work together for a common purpose and to develop a shared vision. We need leadership that includes those most affected by these issues—Latino families, African American families, families of children with disabilities, families living in poverty with children — any and all who are impacted by how DLI is implemented.
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. In my experience, this will result in a plan that most will commit to and steward. This approach could also go a long way toward healing the differences that in so many ways plague and divide our communities.
Public schools are a cornerstone of the commons and our democracy. Such a deliberative and inclusive process could go a long way toward healing the divisions that we suffer in in this city and strengthening our democracy. We have so few opportunities to come together to co-author work, identify shared interests, and build trust. I believe that this is such an opportunity.