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    Seattle must serve bilingual students

    Plans to launch a new secondary school for bilingual students are in danger, likely permanently as district administrators and school boards change and forget past promises.

    Seattle School Board

    Seattle School Board Seattle Public Schools

    While the controversy around exactly how many students actually graduate from Seattle Public Schools continues to receive media and school district attention, one of the most cost effective ways of improving graduation rates — specifically for immigrants and refugees — has been lost in the debate.  The Seattle School Board is poised to once again wrestle with funding and locating a bilingual high school in Seattle.  The commitment for a “World School” was made more than a decade ago and needs to be confirmed.

    Although Washington state is in the top 10 of all states that receive refugees and immigrants, Seattle Public Schools has not created the systems and processes to meet their needs. 

    Recently arrived immigrant and refugee youth of middle and high school age are typically assigned to the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center (SBOC) for English instruction and assistance with transition to the American educational system. After a maximum of three semesters earning few or no credits toward graduation, they are enrolled in one of the city’s comprehensive high schools which are unprepared to continue the level of language support these students need.  As a result, they are as likely to drop out as to graduate.

    In 2001, voters approved $14 million for the development of a World School where these students are held to high expectations and given extra support to succeed.  But the district has repeatedly reallocated those funds to cover extra expenses.

    In spring 2010, the superintendent approved a new model for implementation in fall 2011 and stipulated that staff and community members would work together to identify an appropriate site and design the facility. Community-based organizations obtained grant funding for after-school and parent programs based on the new model; agencies planned to house new programs within the new model; the city has committed to using Family and Education Levy funds to house and staff a needed health clinic to address the needs of newly arrived immigrants and refugees.

    Sources outside the district committed hundreds of thousands of dollars in resources.  Community advocates for bilingual students were hopeful that the district would finally meet the needs of secondary bilingual students.

    Their hope was short-lived. In fall 2010, the district abandoned the collaborative design process and decided to locate the new school together with another school in a single building. By January of this year, the district stated that secondary level non-native English speakers would receive only those academic services that can be fit into the shared building.

    Later last month, district administrators recommended that the board cut $500,000 in operational funds, which had been allocated in 2010 to implement the new model.  Without those funds, the new school will not open as promised in the fall of this year.

    Those of us who understand public funding know this means that the school will most likely never be funded.  As administrators come and go, as boards come and go, and as funding circumstances change, the people in charge forget the promises of the past.  This has been the history of bilingual education in Seattle.  In the experience of Seattle’s bilingual students, a dream deferred is a dream that dies.

    Why should the city care about bilingual students?  They currently represent 11 percent of the district’s population.  They come from war or deprivation or oppressions that most of us cannot imagine.  They tend not to have a strong parents’ advocacy group that understands how the system works and how to advocate for its children.  While other groups can marshal their constituencies to action, this group does not have the political acumen or resources to keep the district to its promises even though the courts and current civil rights statutes agree. 

    While the district has taken steps to address the deficiencies of its elementary model for non-native English speakers, the World School was its response to its failure to meet the needs of secondary students.  The creation of the World School would have meant, for the first time in recent memory, the district was living up to the legal and ethical obligations established by 30 years of case law and regulation.  Postponing action means that the district remains out of compliance in protecting the civil rights of secondary bilingual students. 

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    Posted Mon, Feb 7, 6:58 a.m. Inappropriate

    What percentage of the eleven percent of bilingual speakers are illegal aliens? If their families voluntarily return to their homelands, would the district be able to fund the program for those who are here legally?


    Posted Mon, Feb 7, 9:41 a.m. Inappropriate

    How best to serve bilingual students

    As a recently-retired bilingual educator in King County for the past twenty-five years, I was perplexed to read Bob Hughes article on the best way to serve secondary level newly-arrived bilingual students was by constructing a new school building.

    Readers could understandably be confused by the conflation of three very separate issues.

    1. What is the best educational model for young bilingual students and their parents who are very committed to family success in their new homeland? Study after study shows that the best results are achieved by integrating newly-arrived families into their neighborhood schools and neighborhood life. This is the best way for students to be surrounded by American friends and English language. This is also the best way for bilingual parents to participate in American networks for family support and job training.

    2. How can Seattle families take advantage of the rich resources available in our city with such a large portion of bilingual communities of so many different languages? The creation of magnet schools, or “World Schools”, has a proven track record in many American cities. Within the Seattle Public Schools’ eight high schools, we could easily have one that specializes in Spanish-emphasis language and content instruction that would attract all students throughout the city interested in the culture of and careers in Latin America. Another high school in Seattle could be a magnet for African languages and career opportunities, as well as one for Asian, and yet another for Middle Eastern studies. Such an approach would enrich educational opportunities for all Seattle families

    3. And finally the third issue, that Bob Hughes wanted to address. How do we best provide the optimal education for newly-arrived adolescent students who come without an American teenager’s complex level of English? I’m sure that the studies conducted by the Steering Committee that led the district redesign of the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center considered these issues in detail, and they will have many valuable findings for Seattle voters to consider.

    But I’m also confident that they will draw many conclusions similar to those drawn by bilingual programs in districts surrounding Seattle. Students succeed best in community schools where they are connected to bilingual students who came at an earlier age, who are successful in English, and who can provide peer support.

    Parents can provide the best support to teens in a new culture when they are connected to the nearby schools and can engage with educators to supervise their children’s learning and behavior.

    In order to provide the transition from an orientation center to high school success, a district needs to spend the extra funds, not for a building and more administrators, but for tutorial services and teacher training in the approximate 7000 word core lexicon and the multiple relational concepts that secondary students need to master academic and career content. Those designated funds raised by the citizens and foundations in the community are a god-send. They should be put into a designated Trust Fund.

    Fund teachers of English Language Learners to attend workshops with colleagues throughout King County on best practices and innovative approaches. It is HARD to teach newly-arrived teenagers, but it is successfully being done in Seattle and around the county. Fund translation services so that bilingual parents can communicate with educators in the neighborhood school house. And, trust Seattle voters to keep funding school-based health clinics for all families.

    Don’t reduce, but expand, neighborhood library and recreational opportunities for our students for greater access to computers, space to study, and recreational opportunities to better stay out of trouble. Provide childcare opportunities and adult classes to let the whole family learn. Students who know they are supported by the whole community will be far more likely to stay in school and be successful. And then we will all be the richer for it, as these teens join the job market, and contribute to a recovering economy.

    Posted Mon, Feb 7, 11:51 a.m. Inappropriate

    As someone who follows Seattle public education (I write for the Save Seattle Schools blog), I believe that these students have been ignored long enough. And maybe ignored is the wrong word. The case is that they have been put at the bottom of the "to do" list for too long. Professor Hughes and Mr. Richards as well as other educators can help decide what is the best path for these students. I think Mr. Richards has some interesting ideas but I think the path has been drawn and now the district needs to send the plan in motion.

    But the district has got to stop making promises to these communities and then pulling the rug out from under them. Under the BEX capital building program, SBOC was to get a modest $14M building or upgrade. That money was moved to the bloated Garfield project (which is at $120M and counting). And the original $14M has now been downgraded to $10M.

    Every time the district makes a promise and breaks it is one more time that supporters of SBOC have to try to convince these groups to hang in there. Veronica Gallardo, the head of SPS Bilingual Services, told the Board at the last work session on the budget that her job gets harder every time the district breaks a promise.


    Posted Mon, Feb 7, 10:16 p.m. Inappropriate

    So what's the issue? If I moved to France or England or Italy or pick somewhere else do you really think there would be a special school set up for me to learn English? I doubt it.

    I spent eight years deeply involved with the Adopt A School program in Fort Worth, Texas working at the time for the President of the State Board of Education. During that time I met a large number of Hispanic teachers that said that this type of program actually hurt the students in their efforts to main stream into jobs outside of the barrio as they put it. Our grand parents and their parents came here not speaking English and somehow they became part of the Greatest Generation in many many ways. No one handed them anything much they did it on their own. No nanny state, no bleeding hearts just hard work and the willingness to do it. Times have not gotten better despite our spending millions upon millions. There is a message there my liberal friends. A very real message.


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