English options satisfy DPS
District drops immersion plan
September 2, 2003
By Eric Hubler, Denver Post Education Writer
Denver Public Schools has quietly dropped a plan to offer English immersion
to Spanish- speaking children after realizing that most of them already are in
classrooms where English is the dominant language and the rest have the option
of going into all-English classes.
Chief academic officer Sally Mentor Hay told the school board of her idea in
December, adding that she hoped to launch it in at least four schools by the
start of this school year.
The aim was to be able to offer high-quality English literacy instruction at
every elementary school in DPS and not keep children in classrooms where Spanish
is used longer than necessary, said Susana Cordova, the district's director of
"We needed to have a more consistent approach across the city," Cordova said.
Further analysis revealed that all DPS elementary schools already offer English
instruction, though approaches vary and parents at some schools can choose
classes that make heavy use of Spanish for a student's first three years,
"We need to make sure that the perception on the part of the public is matched
up with what's going on," she said.
Consistency is a worthy goal because it leads to efficiencies in teacher
training and better student achievement, Cordova said.
But DPS officials decided they are basically satisfied with the current system,
monitored by the federal court in Denver, which allows parents to choose among
different approaches to English acquisition.
"Parent choice needs to be honored at all times," Cordova said. "Any of the
models can be high-quality and can be effective ways for Spanish-speakers to
On the flip side, she said, "Any model poorly implemented is not going to get
Eight of the 91 DPS elementary schools do not offer any special English Language
Acquisition program because they have few or no English learners.
Of the rest, 34 offer Transitional Native Language Instruction, which uses
Spanish support for up to three years.
Most of the remainder offer various stripes of English as a Second Language -
sometimes in addition to TNLI, sometimes instead of. ESL pullout sessions are
conducted in English, though sometimes the teacher knows Spanish.
An increasingly popular choice available in two schools is dual language, in
which all subjects are taught in Spanish and English, Cordova said.
"Research has shown that programs that are well-implemented, of any of the
models, can be successful," Cordova said.
A key element for DPS officials, Cordova said, is that parents can opt out of
any program at any school and have their children placed in regular classrooms
if they want.
"Parents can reject these services. It's always a parent choice," she said.
DPS does not tally how many English learners are in precisely which
instructional models, Cordova said.
But more than half of DPS' 15,455 English learners as of October 2002 were
receiving all their instruction in English, she said.
During last autumn's debate over a constitutional amendment that would have
banned bilingual education statewide, opponents of bilingual education said that
large numbers of Spanish-speaking students in DPS and elsewhere around the state
were being put into Spanish-language classes against their parents' wishes, but
they were able to produce only a few parents who said they had had that
Voters rejected the amendment, but DPS Superintendent Jerry Wartgow said the
experience would cause school officials to redouble their efforts to place
English learners accurately.
"I think the perception is that bilingual education is one thing only and keeps
people in Spanish classes longer than necessary, and I don't think that's true,"