A team of six national researchers is analyzing teaching methods in several dual language schools across the United States, Texas, and San Antonio in hopes of improving the educational landscape for Latino students. Studies show that educational outcomes for Latino students in the U.S. are generally worse than their Anglo counterparts’, and it’s been this way throughout history.
Lower achievement in Latino communities can be attributed to a number of variables, but Roberto Gutierrez, founder and president of Latino Educational Equity Partnerships (LEEP), a San Antonio-based nonprofit that works to advance the educational outcomes for underserved communities, believes that longer, more intensive dual language instruction – in this case Spanish/English – coupled with curriculum tailored toward Latino communities will allow those students to excel academically and maintain a sense of pride in and familiarity with their Latino culture.
This is especially important, Gutierrez said, because the Latino population in Texas and the U.S. is rapidly growing.
“There are very few materials designed and written and built for the Latino community within the context of that community,” he said. “Some people say there’s lots of material for dual language instruction, but were those originally written for the Latino community? Were they created with stories and the cultural context of our Latino community?”
Gutierrez and his team of experienced education consultants are working with researchers from Bellwether Education Partners, a nationally recognized education advising and support nonprofit, to accomplish the effort, which is backed by a $100,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Since July, the group has been interviewing educators and making site visits to national, statewide, and local high performing dual language schools in predominantly Latino cities, such as San Antonio’s KIPP Esperanza Dual Language Academy, to gather data on best instruction practices and effective curriculum models that produce favorable results for students. The group anticipates concluding the research by the end of October, from which they will create a set of standards around dual language instruction, specifically around a 90/10 model, where students are taught 90% in Spanish and 10% in English from Pre-K to fifth grade.
“We will explore the current teaching needs of students and teachers and see what resources those schools can use to accelerate learning,” Gutierrez said.
The effort will ultimately contribute to LEEP’s long-term vision of creating one K-12 and three K-8 dual language district or charter schools with curriculum tailored toward Latino students in San Antonio’s inner city.
Gutierrez, who grew up bilingual, experienced gaps in his own education when it came to incorporating relatable cultural references into lessons, even here in San Antonio. He told the Rivard Report a story about his elementary teacher showing his class how to draw a tulip, a flower he had never seen in his native San Antonio. While it may seem like a trivial observation, Gutierrez said, similar examples abound in terms of teaching relatable subject matter.
The lack of Latino cultural references in the curriculum of schools in many places, even South Texas where the majority of students are Latino, only affirms one thing to the students, Gutierrez said: That learning about their culture and heritage is not important.
The same thing happens when native Spanish-speaking children, who know a small amount of English, are tested only on their English skills, he said. When they fail to perform to the caliber of their native English-speaking counterparts, they’re made to think they must shed their native language to excel, he added.
“I want to affirm for Latino kids the importance of their native language, and even for non-Latino kids, the importance of having that multicultural dimension in their own lives,” Gutierrez said, along with reinforcing pride in their culture. “Latino and non-Latino kids need to grow up together knowing that they’re living in a world where they should speak many languages, and hopefully we can get them to two languages (so they can) be academically proficient in both of them. And that’s not just an aspiration. That’s actually being done in this country.”
LEEP’s mission with this research, Gutierrez said, is to “replicate and scale some of these good practices.” Studies completed by the U.S. Department of Education show that dual language education provides English Learners (ELs) more opportunities to succeed in the classroom. These students are exposed to “bilingualism, biliteracy, and global awareness, and are encouraged to appreciate and understand different cultures.”
With this in mind, Gutierrez and the Bellwether researchers are examining district and charter schools around the city, state, and nation that promote this model and, over time, aim to develop a strategic plan for implementing a cluster of such schools in San Antonio.
Gutierrez is no stranger to education policy or systems. He most recently served as chief advancement officer advisor for the Phoenix-based charter school network Great Hearts America, and launched a $12 million fundraising campaign in San Antonio and another in North Texas. There are currently two Great Hearts academies in San Antonio.
Since Gutierrez founded LEEP last year, he has met with more than 350 local and national educators, scholars, policy makers, and others to help make his vision a reality. The vision includes getting more Latinos into leadership and teaching positions, too, he said. His research with Bellwether will determine an effective way to establish a talent pipeline of Latino teachers from the U.S., Mexico, and South and Central America.
Gutierrez said LEEP plans to submit a charter school application in November and move forward with its mission to “maximize and affirm” Latino students’ heritage through more culturally conscious teaching methods starting from the Pre-K level.
“The focus is creating an opportunity for kids to reenergize that Latino narrative that’s already truly imprinted in a community like San Antonio,” he said, “which is so rich in history and tradition.”
Top image: Bilingual Pre-K students Justin and Selvin do reading and language exercises on tablets. Photo by Scott Ball.