April 21, 2016

Why we Fight to Expand and Support Dual Language Immersion in PPS

by Jeanice Chieng
Education Justice Manager

Our education system is failing students of color from non-English speaking homes who are in enrolled in English Language Learner (ELL) programs. There is a roughly 24% opportunity gap between ELL students and non-ELL students--recent Oregon data shows that only 51% of ELL students graduate high school on time, compared to 75% of non-ELL students. That is unacceptable and why APANO’s top education priorities are fulfilling HB 3499 (the 2015 ELL Reform bill) and supporting and expanding Dual Language Immersion (DLI) programs in Portland Public Schools (PPS).

DLI programs are the best program model for students who need to learn English because DLI programs are: 1) asset/strength based--the child is able to use his/her native cultural and language skills in the classroom; and 2) learning two languages increases cognitive functions--children who learn two languages have higher IQs and are better problem solvers. Additionally, unlike ELL where most of the students are pulled out of their classroom and missing valuable class time for an ELL class, DLI students don’t miss any class time because they are learning half of the day in English, and the other half in the immersion language.

Here are excerpts from two recent letters we sent to PPS in regard to the Chinese and Vietnamese DLI programs.

Dear Superintendent Smith and the Board of Education:

The Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) is the state’s oldest and largest advocacy group for Oregon’s 250,000 Asian and Pacific Islanders. Our members and partners have been strong supporters of the efforts to improve English Language Learner (ELL) programs. Alongside communities of color, we have participated in a range of PPS stakeholder groups, including the most recent effort to establish goals to expand Dual Language Immersion (DLI) programs that was adopted by the Board in 2014.

We continue to recognize DLI programs as the best academic experience for ELL students because DLI closes the achievement gap. Consistently all students, but in particular ELL students in a DLI program, have better outcomes than their peers in a pull-out ELL program. There is also the added benefit of sustaining critical cultural identity and familial relationships. While not all languages can have an established DLI program, PPS has done well to identify Cantonese and Mandarin as feasible because native Chinese students are the fast growing ELL population in PPS.

We applaud PPS’s successful follow through of establishing the Vietnamese DLI program and expanding the Mandarin DLI program to Northeast Portland.

We now ask that you honor the plan to implement a trilingual Cantonese/Mandarin/English program in Southeast Portland, originally planned for the Fall of 2015, to be fully operational for the Fall of 2016.

Preliminary enrollment data that we have requested from PPS has shown that there is student/family demand, (48 Chinese students have applied for the 26 native spots at Woodstock’s Chinese DLI program), qualified multilingual teachers, curriculum, and available space.

We also write to request that you continue to support PPS’s Vietnamese community and DLI program, by not reducing 1.0 FTE for next year’s first grade class, and by hiring 2.0 FTE for the second grade class, instead of 1.0 FTE.

We commend PPS for following through on its commitment to open its first Vietnamese DLI program at Roseway Heights. Vietnamese students have been, and continue to be, the largest Asian Pacific Islander population in the ELL program at PPS. However, for a long time, they were largely ignored until the program at Roseway Heights began.

The Vietnamese DLI program is currently in its second year of operation and needs consistent support from PPS in order to be successful. There are enough students in PPS’s Vietnamese community to support a robust DLI program. But, there has not been: 1) a dedicated PPS Vietnamese staff member to recruit students; 2) a shared understanding from PPS’s Vietnamese staff around the benefits of the DLI program; 3) an effort to do consistent, year round community education on DLI; and 4) a permanent home for the program. All of these are areas of improvement, if addressed, will lead to higher enrollment. Additionally, reducing teachers in the program would not be in alignment with PPS’s Racial Educational Equity Policy.

APANO looks forward to hearing from you and working with our community partners, you and your staff, to see through the DLI expansion and supports.

For questions, more information, or if you want to get involved, please email jeanice@apano.org