Eight members of Boston Public Schools’ English Learners Task Force resigned on Tuesday in protest of the district’s new plan for moving English language learners into general education classrooms, calling it “ill-advised” and “harmful.”
The resignations come two weeks after BPS unveiled the "Inclusive Education Plan." Instead of being taught separately in their native language, students will be in regular classes and receive English as a Second Language support as needed.
Maria Serpa, one of the resigning members, said the new plan will not improve educational outcomes for the nearly 15,000 BPS students who are English language learners.
“It’s compromising their opportunities to learn to read well in English, to learn English well, to learn math, to learn science,” she said. “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 resigned in a letter to school officials on Tuesday, citing the change.
“This shift represents a clear move away from expanding access to instruction in the students’ native languages and highlights a fundamental divide between EL Task Force leaders and BPS leaders that we no longer feel can be bridged,” they said in the letter. “For this reason, we write to you today to resign from the EL Task Force of the Boston School Committee.”
Members of the task force, which includes learning specialists and academics, said teaching English language learners in their native language is supported by research showing its effectiveness. The members said the new plan could lead to “more disciplinary challenges in schools, and increased drop-out rates for the one-third of BPS students who are classified as English learners.”
In a statement, BPS spokesperson Max Baker thanked the resigning members for their years of service and advocacy for multilingual students. But he said that educational outcomes for English language learners reported to the state make clear that “the status quo is not working for our multilingual learners.”
“Our District is committed to adopting inclusive practices so that multilingual students have access to native language services, and receive their required services, while also engaging in learning alongside their peers,” he said, calling the Inclusive Education Plan a “roadmap for making these long-overdue systemic changes.”
BPS announced the plan at its Oct. 18 school committee meeting announcing a new effort to rebuild its special education and multilingual programs. The 13-member task force was formed by the School Committee in 2009, after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice found that the district failed to provide English learners with specialized instruction.
The eight resigning task force members include co-chair Suzanne Lee; researchers Maria Serpa, Rosann Tung and Miren Uriarte; advocates John Mudd and Paulo De Barros; former Boston Special Education Parent Advisory Council Chair Roxann Harvey; and Fabián Torres-Ardila of UMass Boston’s Gastón Institute.
Serpa said that the new plan is counterproductive and will make a challenging problem worse. About 90 percent of English learners don't pass the state's annual MCAS examinations already, and she expects those outcomes will worsen under the new plan.
Torres-Ardila said under the new plan, students will be faced with new obstacles: learning English and learning the academic content in English.
“We don't think that teachers are going to be prepared,” he said. “Most teachers in general education are not bilingual, so the student will not learn the content and will not learn English.”