While insisting that it did nothing wrong, a Central Valley school district has quickly settled a lawsuit filed by several chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a half-dozen parents and teachers who charged that the district had adopted a destructive program for English learners, which the state, in turn, failed to monitor.

ACLU Chief Counsel Mark Rosenbaum said no teachers defended the program.

ACLU Chief Counsel Mark Rosenbaum said no teachers defended the program.

Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel of the ACLU of Southern California, vowed Friday that it would be filing similar suits in order to force the state Department of  Education to fix flawed programs that other districts offer English learners.

Under the terms of a settlement released last week, Dinuba Unified has agreed to immediately replace the controversial reading program, Second Language Acquisition Development Instruction, or SLADI, to hire two English language learning consultants suggested by the plaintiffs, and to offer after-school and summer interventions for students who had been assigned SLADI. The unorthodox program, which the district first tried in 2007, takes a grammar- and spelling-intensive approach to learning English. It started with first and second graders, who were pulled out of class for 2½ hours daily for the first half of the year to study parts of speech and learn sentence construction. Rosenbaum likened it to teaching swimming by memorizing the chemistry of water. Teachers and parents who sued said that children fell behind their classmates in reading and were denied exposure to literature and vocabulary. The settlement says that the age-appropriate replacement programs will be designed to “to enhance oral language skills, written language skills, comprehension and access to core curriculum, as well as to integrate ELL students to the fullest extent possible.”

Dinuba Unified Supt. Joe Hernandez said the program produced "great results." Click to enlarge.

Dinuba Unified Supt. Joe Hernandez said the program produced “great results.” Click to enlarge.

Nonetheless, in a YouTube video and press release, Superintendent Joe Hernandez  defended SLADI, which he said brought “great results,” and led two of five elementary schools to raise scores enough to escape penalties of Program Improvement status under the No Child Left Behind law. He dismissed the suit as a philosophical disagreement and implied the only reason the district is settling is to escape $1 million in expenses from a protracted legal fight. (The district has agreed to pay plaintiffs’ attorneys $142,000 in fees and costs anyway.)

“People can always fight about philosophy, but we know the real factors in the success of our students are the quality of our teachers and the resources we can devote to them,” Hernandez said. At the same time, he acknowledged that the district already had “formed a teacher-based committee to recommend improvements to its program,” and planned to go before the school board when the lawsuit was filed at the end of May.

According to the lawsuit, however, teachers had expressed clear dissatisfaction with SLADI. In the fall of 2011, the Executive Board of the Dinuba Teachers Assn. sent a statement to the district stating, “Teachers within our association have determined that this program is ineffective” and that “teachers have ethical and moral issues with this program.” A month before the lawsuit was filed, the full Association condemned SLADI as a “backwards model that could prove detrimental” to students and criticized the district for adopting a program that defied accepted research.

Rosenbaum said the district would be hard-pressed to find one teacher who defended the program.

Dinuba is a 6,000-student K-12 district serving the 24,000-population city of the same name located east of Route 99, midway between Fresno and Visalia. More than 90 percent of Dinuba Unified students are Hispanic and about one third are English learners.

Since Dinuba Unified was in Program Improvement as a district, the state had to sign off on the program that the district adopted for English learners. In rubber stamping SLADI, the state was derelict of its oversight responsibilities, the lawsuit said.

“This is a good example of why the state needs to be involved,” said Rosenbaum, accusing the state of an “abject failure to aggressively enforce the State Constitution (with its requirement for equal educational opportunity) and federal mandates.” The rapid out-of-court settlement left the ACLU without a chance to pursue action against the state, for now.

Recognizing that the quality of programs for English learners varies widely and standards for classifying and reintegrating English learners are inconsistent, Sen. Alex Padilla, a Los Angeles Democrat, proposed two bills this year. SB 1108 would require districts and county offices to report the criteria they use for redesignating English learners as proficient in English to the State Department of Education, which would then made recommendations to the Legislature; that bill appears headed toward passage. But SB 1109, which would have established a master plan for English learners – looking at best practices and techniques for instruction, parent involvement, and the long-term learning needs of English learners – died in Senate Appropriations.

 

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  1. Mary Pecci 1 year ago1 year ago

    I'm chancing that it's okay to recommend my own contributions. After MANY years as a Reading Specialist, I found it necessary to develop my own Beginning Reading Series in order for ESL children to learn English while learning to read - i.e, using high frequency words introduced in a special sequence and within a meaningful context and repeated often enough to develop fluency. This year, 2015, I taught two students who spoke no English 7 … Read More

    I’m chancing that it’s okay to recommend my own contributions. After MANY years as a Reading Specialist, I found it necessary to develop my own Beginning Reading Series in order for ESL children to learn English while learning to read – i.e, using high frequency words introduced in a special sequence and within a meaningful context and repeated often enough to develop fluency. This year, 2015, I taught two students who spoke no English 7 months ago with these readers. They had transferred to the school from Nicaragua. Here’s a copy of a letter I received from one of the students (unedited):

    “I want to thank you for teaching me. I really appreciate the way you taught me English. I also like how you understand wehn I read and I said a word and it’s not like that. I’m sorry when katherine is not here and you have to come to the class togetme. I wish you have a nice summer.” Sincerely, Helayne.

    It’s regrettable that ordinary Reading Teachers like myself, who have VALUABLE information to share, don’t have the funds or connections to get it into the mainstream. For those interested, here’s the website: http://www.OnlineReadingTeacher.com. Check out the vast testimonials.

  2. Marian Devincenzi 4 years ago4 years ago

    Saturday, August 25, 2012, Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, will be a guest at Assemblyman Jim Beal's breakfast meeting in Campbell. I plan on giving him a set of the Pecci Readers for kindergarten and first grade. I asked for a pilot study to be done on her method and readers in 2007 by the State of California Education Department. Please check out: www.OnlineReadingTeacher.com Mary Pecci, the author wrote me in 2009 that a teacher … Read More

    Saturday, August 25, 2012, Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, will be a guest at Assemblyman Jim Beal’s breakfast meeting in Campbell.

    I plan on giving him a set of the Pecci Readers for kindergarten and first grade. I asked for a pilot study to be done on her method and readers in 2007 by the State of California Education Department.

    Please check out: http://www.OnlineReadingTeacher.com

    Mary Pecci, the author wrote me in 2009 that a teacher in Mexico used her pre-primers (The primer and 1-1 reader had not been published at the time.) and was thrilled that his students were learning to speak English at the same time that they were learning to read with her pre-primers.

  3. el 4 years ago4 years ago

    The best people for the job aren’t always the people who would put themselves out to run. Thus, the need to cultivate and seek out voices from all corners of the community, not just the ones with the biggest hat sizes. 🙂

  4. Regis 4 years ago4 years ago

    El, I have to respectfully disagree. Again, we are splitting up the demographics into oppposing factions, each with it's own special interests. This is exactly the same as 'the qouta' system, where candidates are picked, based on their race. The electorate should elect the best people for the job. I don't think it makes a difference what race they are. Can they deliver their commitment to running the schools the way they … Read More

    El, I have to respectfully disagree. Again, we are splitting up the demographics into oppposing factions, each with it’s own special interests. This is exactly the same as ‘the qouta’ system, where candidates are picked, based on their race.

    The electorate should elect the best people for the job. I don’t think it makes a difference what race they are. Can they deliver their commitment to running the schools the way they should be run? I’d easily vote for a Latino if that candidate was more qualified, had more experience and could represent the entire school district and not just ‘his constituents’, because otherwise, you end up with what you’ve got in Sacramento and the rest of California.

    Splitting up the district into subdistricts brings a whole bag of bad mojo into the mix. You already have ‘poor’ districts saying they need more money than ‘rich’ districts because of their circumstances. Imagine splitting it up into the constituent districts! Dividing the map, dividing ourselves and look where we’re at now?

  5. el 4 years ago4 years ago

    I think the goal of getting, over time, a school board that demographically represents the community - or communities - served by a school district is a laudable goal. I question only whether dividing the district into subdistricts is always the best or only way or even likely at all to achieve that goal. I suspect that in many cases the real need is in candidate recruitment, cheerleading, and support rather than a smaller pond. … Read More

    I think the goal of getting, over time, a school board that demographically represents the community – or communities – served by a school district is a laudable goal. I question only whether dividing the district into subdistricts is always the best or only way or even likely at all to achieve that goal. I suspect that in many cases the real need is in candidate recruitment, cheerleading, and support rather than a smaller pond. Of course, this will vary by circumstance, and the larger and more varied the geographic area served, the more appropriate it will be to divide up the map.

  6. Regis 4 years ago4 years ago

    Navigio, your thoughts on representation are intriguing. Allow me to qoute you: "But the concerning thing is that most people here felt is was a less representative mechanism because each constituent would be limited to only one board member who really listened to them as opposed to having a say in the election of all board members." I think your comment nails it! What we have here is a prime example of what I called … Read More

    Navigio, your thoughts on representation are intriguing. Allow me to qoute you: “But the concerning thing is that most people here felt is was a less representative mechanism because each constituent would be limited to only one board member who really listened to them as opposed to having a say in the election of all board members.”

    I think your comment nails it! What we have here is a prime example of what I called “Race-Based” politics. Instead of ‘United We Stand…’, we have ‘What is my group entitled to, or I sue!’. It all comes down to a degradation of the belief that immigrants came to America for freedom, opportunity and above all, to be American. Now that doesn’t matter, because we’ve introduced a highly divisive and controversial element into our whole system, political, educational and social.

    My absolute best friend of 40 years is a Hispanic, born in Los Angeles of fifth generation Texas Mexicans. My other buddy came here from Thailand at age 14, not knowing any english whatsoever and myself, a French Canadian born immigrant who migrated to Los Angeles in the 60’s, and not speaking english either.

    When we’re standing around one of our car projects, not one of us is a hyphenated American whatever. My buddy doesn’t speak Spanish, I hardly speak French and my other bud only knows Thai because he spent so much time in Thailand, but you wouldn’t know we were anything but Americans and I believe this is the core of our whole problem.

    You’ve got a huge Latino demographic that gets its television, print news, advertising, marketing, services and support in Spanish. And it’s the very thing that holds that demographic back, from fully participating in the ‘American Experience’. There is a cultural element that is going to be difficult to overcome.

    Interestingly enough, a few months back one evening, my hispanic-descent bud (and I only mention his ethnicity, because it counts here) was talking out front with some of the Mexican men in the neighborhood and I joined in. All the men spoke perfect english, but later on, my best friend lamented that he is the odd one out in the neighborhood, because he doesn’t speak spanish and he’s overheard them say in spanish (in front of him!) how stupid he is for not knowing spanish. He knew that much. He also told me that none of the women knew english at all and this points to one of the darker sides of the Mexican Experience as far as the Macho culture goes.

    The Mexicans want all the benefits of living in the United States, the opportunities, the money, the chance to live far better here, than in Mexico, but they choose to not assimilate and participate in the American Experience. Some say they have the perfect right to hang on to their culture, beliefs, etc. My observation is that I have no regret shedding most of what I was to become an American. My Thai friend is the same way and except for his features, you couldn’t tell who you were talking to on the phone and that counts for anybody.

    As far as the law goes, that is difficult, because in California, a highly liberal state government and court system is out to remedy any past injustices at the expense of the whole. A very aggressive body of lawyers is ready to leap into action with costly and frivolous lawsuits that take money away from the very demographic they are supposed to ‘represent’, fattening their own pockets in the name of ‘justice’ and what does it get us? Nothing of any good that I can see.

  7. el 4 years ago4 years ago

    I had read about the at-large vs. subdistrict issue a few months ago and thought it was yet again a hornet's nest of "this was the solution in one place so we'll sue everyone until you all have it regardless of what makes sense." Worst case, why not let the voters decide if they want districts or at-large? Fortunately, I think it is obvious even to the dimmest observers that my particular district is too small … Read More

    I had read about the at-large vs. subdistrict issue a few months ago and thought it was yet again a hornet’s nest of “this was the solution in one place so we’ll sue everyone until you all have it regardless of what makes sense.” Worst case, why not let the voters decide if they want districts or at-large?

    Fortunately, I think it is obvious even to the dimmest observers that my particular district is too small to subdivide.

    On top of the whole “what is actually best for the community in question” one might ask whether in these particular extremely lean years if this is the right time to spend time and money on this change in a district that doesn’t have a community rising up and asking for it.

  8. Regis 4 years ago4 years ago

    Pffft! That's the sound of Taxpayer money going to Lawyers again! First it was "The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area", which has brought or consulted on all the cases filed under the voting rights act so far, has sent so-called “demand” letters to dozens of school districts in recent years warning of future legal action unless these jurisdictions got rid of their at-large election systems. Now it's the … Read More

    Pffft! That’s the sound of Taxpayer money going to Lawyers again! First it was “The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area”, which has brought or consulted on all the cases filed under the voting rights act so far, has sent so-called “demand” letters to dozens of school districts in recent years warning of future legal action unless these jurisdictions got rid of their at-large election systems.

    Now it’s the ACLU! Amazing and only in California, where we’re going to insane lengths to protect a demographic from itself.

    Replies

    • navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

      Regis, I am interested in what you think the solution to that lawyer-driven cost scenario is. And more importantly, who is responsible for changing that (assuming something can be changed for the better). I am also interested in this at-large election system fiasco. Our district recently converted, ostensibly as a way to avoid the potential legal costs. But the concerning thing is that most people here felt is was a less representative mechanism because each constituent … Read More

      Regis, I am interested in what you think the solution to that lawyer-driven cost scenario is. And more importantly, who is responsible for changing that (assuming something can be changed for the better).

      I am also interested in this at-large election system fiasco. Our district recently converted, ostensibly as a way to avoid the potential legal costs. But the concerning thing is that most people here felt is was a less representative mechanism because each constituent would be limited to only one board member who really listened to them as opposed to having a say in the election of all board members.

      Notably, the voting rights act does not seem to be concerned with that level of representation, rather whether a minority group can be ‘shut out’ of any representation by virtue of the majority having a say in all seats. And when making that the priority, this can come at the expense of the quality of representation.

      The real irony in our case is that given our demographic layout, it was impossible to give any single subdistrict a minority majority population. The end result could be that the minorities on our board will actually now be more likely to lose than they had been in at-large elections. Of course, laws (including the voting rights act) probably cant make their determinations based specifically on race/ethnicity, so its likely if that is the result, it would have to be simply accepted as an anomaly..

      And although it does seem to bad that these prioritizations can essentially be ‘forced on’ a constituency by the threat of lawsuit, it seems clear that ‘fixing’ that means either changing the law in question, or that which might limit the actions of lawyers. Is that even feasible. And would the end result actually be better? Are we willing to take on the voting rights act? Are we ready as a society for that anyway?

      I am interested to know whether edsource has done a story on this at-large vs subdistrict based problem.