Spanish-language do-over


Miami-Dade’s schools chief felt the push back and heard questions from skeptical media, then wisely postponed scheduled changes to the way the district teaches foreign languages, especially Spanish, to its students. He said that the district will fine-tune the curriculum first. Good move.

“This summer we’ll create a task force made up of educators, parents and stakeholders to help us come up with the best way to teach Spanish in the 21st century in a community going through a generational change,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the Herald Editorial Board on Wednesday.

For now, Mr. Carvalho told the Board, he’s tabling expansion of recent changes and said he will keep the existing style of teaching Spanish in place, welcome news to those who rightly found fault with his plans to improve Spanish learning by making it more intensive, but unavailable to all.

“This has never been about getting rid of bilingualism; it’s about improving the way we teach Spanish. The old way is not working and parents let us know,” said Mr. Carvalho. He says he understands the value of bilingualism in a global economy. The district, he says, spends $20 million a year providing world languages to students.

In calling for a time-out to gather more input, Mr. Carvalho put the best interests of the students first. He said the district’s goal has been to improve the effectiveness of the Spanish instruction it now offers.

The changes began to take form three years ago, prompted by parents’ demand for a truly bilingual education for their kids. MDCPS began exploring ways to overhaul how it teaches students a second language.

The district decided to phase out traditional, 30-minute-a-day Spanish classes.

But the new approach prompted outcry from some who called the change “elitist.” They include some parents, yes, but also an association of Spanish teachers, the NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens, among them. They opposed the district’s plan to create the “extended foreign language” curriculum, a more-intensive program that would immerse students — make that some students — into Spanish.

However, those students who are not capable of keeping up in the more-rigorous program — though they would be able to learn something more than the basics — would get nothing, nada.

And there were other challenges with the new plan. Many Spanish-language teachers said that they would be forced to conduct classes in Spanish in math or others subjects in which they are not certified to teach.

Among the critics were NAACP leaders who know the value of speaking a foreign language and want to ensure that African-American and other minority students do not get shut out. And also Rosa Castro Feinberg, who, in 1988, was the first Hispanic woman elected to the Miami-Dade School Board. She told the board that she opposed the idea that all students would not receive any bilingual instruction unless they’re in the intensive program. She called the proposed plan “exclusionary” and “elitist.”

“It will have tons of economic ramifications,” she said. No one, least of all the students, can afford that.

Mr. Carvalho listened to the community’s concerns and acted. He’s right to give the proposed bilingual-education makeover more scrutiny before it’s implemented. The goal, after all, is to ensure students are served, not shortchanged.