With kids falling behind, school district to revamp Dual Immersion program

Mountain View Whisman Superintendent says Mistral's bilingual education isn't equitable for native Spanish-speakers

Despite Mistral Elementary's promise of dual literacy, some of its most vulnerable students are struggling to learn English and meet state academic standards. School district leaders say that needs to change.

Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph announced at a school board meeting this month that starting this fall, the Mountain View Whisman School District will start an overhaul of the Dual Immersion program. It will include changing the basic format of how kids learn Spanish and English, ditching its math curriculum and working to extend the dual-language program beyond fifth grade and into middle school.

The bilingual program draws children from all over the district, but Rudolph said the program has been inequitable for more than a decade. Kids who speak English going into the program are doing great in school and outscoring their peers, while children from Spanish-speaking families who don't speak English as a first language are struggling to keep up, according to the district's analysis.

A growing body of evidence has found that dual immersion, when implemented right, helps kids from both groups excel on standardized tests, but that hasn't been the case in Mountain View, Rudolph said. He pointed to a study last year that concluded kids going into the program not speaking English are not seeing any of the purported benefits in middle school or high school. This has been the case for the Dual Immersion program going back to 2008, according to the study.

"The English-only students are learning Spanish off of the backs of the English language learners," Rudolph said. "That was what was found. It was not published, but that was explicitly stated."

The study itself is nuanced and has plenty of caveats about statistical significance, essentially saying English learners who attend the district's Dual Immersion program don't do that much better or worse than kids from other schools. But given the potential, well-documented benefits of dual-language programs as a tool to close the achievement gap, Rudolph told board members that Mistral is falling short of expectations.

In order to root out problems and come up with a plan of action, the district put together an all-staff committee that included Mistral teachers last fall. The group zeroed in on one central point: Native Spanish speakers aren't learning English at a fast enough rate, and it's putting them at a disadvantage. Unlike other dual-language programs that teach English and Spanish in equal amounts each year, Mistral uses what's called a "90/10" model that teaches kindergarten students mostly in Spanish, adding more English instruction in each subsequent grade, ending elementary school with 50/50 instruction. That means students seeking to learn English wait years before getting direct instruction in English reading and writing.

"The problem at Mistral currently is that in the earlier grades we are not teaching (English) writing and reading until third grade," said Mistral principal Tabitha Miller.

It doesn't come as a surprise, then, that the rate at which Mistral's English learner students "reclassify" as fluent lags behind other schools in the district. Only six of the 152 students in the district who reclassified this year were from Mistral, putting it dead last.

"When you've got all those skills that have to be kind of crammed into third grade, I think that's caused a real problem with us being able to reclassify students at an earlier grade level and more effectively at later grade levels," Miller said.

The committee recommended rapid change, converting the program to a so-called "50/50" model equally split between English and Spanish instruction from kindergarten on for the 2019-20 school year. Other changes include switching the math curriculum from GoMath to Eureka Math, which is used in every other district school, and regular testing in English and Spanish to ensure students are on track in both languages.

Brenda Jarillo-Rabling, a fifth-grade teacher at Mistral, said the proposed changes would put Dual Immersion on the right track, and that there is strong evidence that an even-handed approach to teaching Spanish and English would support every student at the school. While the district's own study found plenty of evidence that the 90/10 model can also be effective -- and states plainly that both work if done right -- Jarillo-Rabling said the status quo isn't working for Spanish-speaking families.

"The 90/10 model is not necessarily translating into success for all students," she said.

Parent Imelda Moreno, speaking to the board through a translator, said it's difficult for Latino parents in the district to wait until fourth and fifth grade for their child to reclassify as fluent in English, and that many remain English learners into middle school.

When the topic of revamping Dual Immersion came up last year, some Mistral parents argued that the data was too old and too inconclusive to warrant big changes, and that deficiencies in test scores and GPAs could be attributed to other challenges the school has faced. Dual Immersion has gone through a number of leadership changes and went from being a choice program within Castro Elementary to a stand-alone school in 2015. Many of Mistral's teachers are recent hires.

While the research is inconclusive on which dual immersion model is better, board member Devon Conley said she supported the changes. Reclassification was the top concern among the dozens of Spanish-speaking families at Mistral's English Language Advisory Committee (ELAC) in the winter, she said, and the district's reclassification rates only add to the legitimacy of those concerns.

"I do want to support the Spanish-speaking families who have really spoken out and have what I think are concrete concerns that are supported by the data," she said.

Parents, however, were absent from the superintendent's committee. Rudolph said he made a conscious decision to keep parents out of the process in order for teachers and staff to have a candid discussion about the school's shortcomings. He said the district had plenty of feedback from parents ahead of time, and that critical self-assessments are an "emotional conversation" that need to take place behind closed doors.

"It was hard enough for teachers to assess themselves, but to assess themselves in front of parents and to say we're not doing X, Y and Z -- if I was a parent and I heard a teacher say that, I would pull my kid out of that school immediately," he said.

To Mistral parent Enrique Torres, the district's decision felt like it was going back on a promise. He told board members that the community was told they would be given updates on the committee's progress, but instead got one "cafecito" meeting, essentially briefing parents on a decision that was already made. Swapping to a "50/50" model so abruptly, without community involvement right after parents made commitments on which school to send their child to in the fall, feels like a bait and switch, he said.

Joey Mercer told the Voice that he and other Mistral parents are ready to support changes that will improve the school, but doing so is difficult when all those decisions are made without parent input. Correspondence with Mistral parents was limited to a notice that non-specific changes to the Dual Immersion program were on the way.

If the district is forthcoming on why it's switching to a 50/50 model and the measures used to judge its effectiveness, Mercer said the district could get more parent buy-in. Instead, it feels like an edict coming down from the district regardless of parent input that threatens to divide families at Mistral.

"We really want to make sure that we stay together as a community," he said. "It would be horrible if this opportunity to re-evaluate how we're doing as a school divided things. If anything, it should be a time to embrace opportunities for how to do things better."

The committee's recommendations come at the end of an evolving discussion over how to extend the Dual Immersion program to eighth grade, rather than have bilingual education end after fifth grade at Mistral. This could include adding sixth, seventh and eighth grades at Mistral or having dual-language courses at Crittenden or Graham middle schools, but district officials have yet to seriously consider the options.

Although the idea of middle school Dual Immersion came up in 2017, Rudolph said he has held off on spending time considering the logistics of any expansion until there are clear signs Mistral's academic program works well. Given the low reclassification rates at Mistral, board member Tamara Wilson said it's time to trust the teachers at the school and move forward with the recommendations.

"We need more English immersion to bring equity to the 'dual' part of dual immersion," Wilson said.

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66 people like this
Posted by Lack of Leadership
a resident of Gemello
on Mar 21, 2019 at 12:10 pm

Once again, Rudolph shows his complete lack of leadership skills. Will he ever learn to involve the community at an appropriate time?

Teach to One. Cooper Park. Removal of principals. Budget crisis. Dual Immersion. What's next?

It has been clear that this was direction in which the district was heading since Mistral's principal was removed last year. Why not begin outreach to parents at that time?

47 people like this
Posted by confused
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2019 at 12:34 pm

So first bring former colleagues as leaders to make things work and that didn't work, so now changing the whole format of the program without parental buy-in?!! Very authoritarian style. I guess that is aligned with how the whole country is being treated.

59 people like this
Posted by Enrique Munoz Torres
a resident of Rex Manor
on Mar 21, 2019 at 12:41 pm

The commitment that Dr. Rudolph made, in writing, on Sept. 21, 2018 was:
"For the Mistral Dual Immersion Advisory Committee, there will be opportunities for parents to hear updates on progress, to discuss the vision of the program and to provide feedback on staff’s recommendation. These dates will be determined and communicated to parents.""

Unfortunately, as stated in the article, Dr. Rudolph deliberately chose not to involve parents in the process.

15 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of The Crossings
on Mar 21, 2019 at 12:55 pm

Data to show problems like this don’t happen overnight. It looks like this article validates the decision to remove the Mistral Principal last year.

61 people like this
Posted by Do better, Dr. Rudolph
a resident of Rex Manor
on Mar 21, 2019 at 1:51 pm

I find Dr. Rudolph's tone to be unnecessarily inflammatory and quite the opposite of stated goals of bringing the school together. Saying in a public forum that English students are succeeding "on the backs of" Spanish speaking students is a great way to divide the community. Bravo.

As a Mistral parent, I'm constantly impressed by the school and by the genuine engagement between the language communities. Every parent I know recognizes that the school only works when the students learn from one another and form bonds that cross language. I'm an English speaking parent open to the idea of a 50/50 model and willing to listen but his high-handed, inflammatory statements are not helping one bit.

81 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Mar 21, 2019 at 2:52 pm

This is such a shame. There are so many amazing success stories that have come out of the Dual Immersion Program for it to be punished by the low end non-achievers. The real problem is so many Hispanic parents do not seem to be placing a high value on supporting their children in school. It always goes back to the parents and the case is no different with Mistral. So once again, the entire community must suffer with a weakened program while the district caters to the far low end of the student population. Congratulations Mr. Rudolph and the Board in making such incredible gains in the race to the bottom! Perhaps if Mr. Rudolph spoke another language we would understand things better. And yes I agree this community is sick and tired of being lied to.

19 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 21, 2019 at 2:58 pm

Steven Nelson is a registered user.

Dear Mistral parents, @do better & Torres,

Dr. Rudolph has a real problem, as do many education administrators, in many districts, of realizing COMMUNICATIONS is 2-way. Not just 'from on high' (that is from him or newsletters TO parents or from principals TO parents). You really need to continually fight - to sometimes 'just be recognized and heard'. {I do not subscribe to the pull of "the current mob" however - "representative democracy" it maters who the community VOTES into office. Parents, even the loudest do not choose the School Board or make their own Public Policy).

Rudolph is trying hard to bring Equity of Opportunity to our community. Sometimes - like his Teach 2 One:Math fiasco, or his Cooper Park teacher housing trip-and-fall, he initiatives it entirely on his own! Or gets abetted by the Board (my bad - didn't vet his TTO:Math 'plan' deeply enough) or he publicly quashes individual Bd. Member inquiry (happened to me twice).

DI had a problem. Rudolph is concerned. His Board may just be 'following him around' (even across the country to North Carolina's DI Mecca? !!! :). That was your tax dollars - the loss of dollars to the GENERAL FUND.

So - continue speaking up. It's democracy in action. You can never be silent - or it ceases to be a working democracy.
Peace and Love

BTW the Superintendent's new contract is up TONIGHT. By 5:30 PM sharp - you can comment directly to Bd.
(or write ASAP)

44 people like this
Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Waverly Park
on Mar 21, 2019 at 2:58 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

Has anyone noticed that every few years, when the "achievement gap" continues to widen despite fancy programs, the school board panics and switches from one remedial plan to another, only to have it fail, too? They must believe in the old politicians' motto --- "Do something, anything!" when publicly confronted with an impossible situation. In other words, give the appearance of change to avoid criticism. The members of the school board are asking the wrong questions instead of (or to avoid?) asking the right ones: "WHY is there an "achievement gap", and "To what extent are students families responsible?" and "How can we possibly improve the negative effects of ignorant and/or disfunctional families"? Teachers used to say (my mother and sister were teachers), in private anyway, "It all begins and ends at home". Is that now taboo to utter out loud?

6 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 21, 2019 at 3:09 pm

Steven Nelson is a registered user.

Dear Mary - spoken like a true 'ignorant of the realities of poor-working-folk' blossom. Sorry - even this registered Republican does not buy what you are selling. Please read the history of the gringo lies that happened during the decades after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago. The "White Man's Burden" may not be quite what you think.

Web Link

19 people like this
Posted by OMV Mistral Parent
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 21, 2019 at 4:02 pm

OMV Mistral Parent is a registered user.

I hope that even people who might think like Mary realize that without those Hispanic families and their children, the Dual Immersion program and school would not (will not) exist. Hispanic families are already "voting with their feet" and leaving the program. They also choose not to send their children to the DI program because of the reclassification issues. While there is always a wait list for students who don't speak Spanish, there is never a wait list for students who do. And yet in order to thrive, the best DI programs need a healthy population of native Spanish speaking students. Sorry folks. You can't hoard opportunities in MVWSD without being forced to do a little social justice on the way. I would also like to say to the general reader that in my experience, people with opinions like Mary's aren't as visible in the Mistral community as they make themselves in the comments of the MVV.

44 people like this
Posted by Enrique Munoz Torres
a resident of Rex Manor
on Mar 21, 2019 at 4:30 pm

Enrique Munoz Torres is a registered user.

Unfortunately, this has been framed as a feud between the parents of Spanish and English learners when that's far from being the case. Having both communities is the essence of what makes Mistral a unique school and it would be very unfortunate if the changes or the discussion around them alienated either community. Specifically on Spanish learners, while it's naïve to pretend that there are no societal differences between both demographics, suggesting that "many Hispanic parents do not seem to be placing a high value on supporting their children in school" is not only insulting but factually untrue.

Simply put, many of us are unhappy because:
1.- Dr. Rudolph didn't deliver on his promise to involve the community.
2.- While we acknowledge that there is a big problem that absolutely needs to be addressed when it comes to the underperformance of Spanish learners, there is not an iota of evidence to suggest that this change will fix it. In fact, given that Spanish learners underperform English learners in written Spanish, there is reason to believe that additional instruction in English will not bridge the English performance gap.
3.- Of the stark difference between their celerity when it comes to making this change and the glacial pace at which they're making progress on expanding Spanish immersion to middle school.

31 people like this
Posted by OneMoreTime
a resident of Shoreline West
on Mar 21, 2019 at 7:18 pm

OneMoreTime is a registered user.

Rudolph's strategic plan is full of promises about collective decision making and the importance of engaging all stakeholders, but this is another example of the the district taking active steps to box parents out. They hypocrisy is concerning.

The middle school schedule task force also did not have parent representatives. In fact, the task force members were told in the winter of 2016 that the committee was put on hold and would reconvene in the fall of 2017 because the district needed to recruit parents and students to participate. When the committee reconvened in the fall of 2017, not one parent or student was on the committee and no explanation was provided.

The School Board accepts what Rudolph tells them hook, line, and sinker. It's like he is their boss and he tells them what to think and do. I'm pretty sure it is supposed to be the other way around.

3 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 21, 2019 at 7:57 pm

Steven Nelson is a registered user.

I cannot condone some of the COMMUNICATIONS (2-way) failures of the MVWSD organization. During my term, or in the last 2 years. It is extremely clear however - it is the Board majority that is responsible for this failure (if you consider it a failure). The Board has the power - clear in state Ed Code - to take back ANY POWER IT HAS PREVIOUSLY DELEGATED to the Superintendent. It is an absolute power - it can be exercised by a majority vote (3).

The President of the Board (now Wilson) also has the absolute power, by herself, to call a Board Special Meeting with any Agenda(s) she chooses.

That is why I categorically rejected the California School Board Association's "it's a TEAM" dogma. So - just who is the Coach, who is the General Manager, the Owner or Owner's representatives? Some of the Trustees, insist that you Must Be A TEAM player. Is it Dr. Rudolph's team?

In the US of A. How much of "An Imperial Presidency" do we have? How much is "good" or "healthy" for the country? What if you are in the federal government, and do not want to Play on Trump's TEAM?

16 people like this
Posted by An Interested Observer
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2019 at 2:28 am

An Interested Observer is a registered user.

This is not new information or data about the Dual Immersion Program. The non-Spanish speaking students always did better than the native Spanish speaking students. Yet, the program continued ..... following the same model! WHY???

10 people like this
Posted by Christopher Chiang
a resident of North Bayshore
on Mar 22, 2019 at 8:35 pm

Christopher Chiang is a registered user.

Too much was expected of full immersion, the reason some global private schools do full immersion is that it's very effective to get non-speakers to speak a foreign language, so it always worked well for non-native Spanish speakers. A program that does that one goal alone is already quite an achievement. It was always over promising by saying that full immersion can also bridge the achievement gap for non-English speakers, a very different goal.

The 50/50 is the right call if the achievement gap is the focus, and for non-Spanish speakers, there's a good track record for 50/50 in both private and public schools around the country. Made all the better if they expand Spanish to near 50/50 in the middle schools, though it looks like the district will just offer advanced Spanish in middle school.

People started hearing district talk of this change during the last principal's departure last year. The non-public process the district used was inadequate at best and at worse seems like window dressing an internal decision made long ago, but overall this shift should work out well for all children in the end, and it carries out the worthy goal that every school site in the district is inviting and successful to a diverse range of families.

I will speak controversially, that, the district's other choice site, Stevenson, a wonderful progressive program, should also make a shift, from expecting parents to volunteer, to highly welcome parents to volunteer and drop parent participation as its driving message to prospective families, that subtle shift would make that school more inclusive to working parents, without sacrificing the beautiful parent participation that makes that progressive model thrive. Both choice programs were founded in a different time, and are choices worth protecting, but the way we look at inclusion has progressed.

1 person likes this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 24, 2019 at 12:47 pm

Steven Nelson is a registered user.

@Christopher Chaing speaks from actual experience as a professional educator / in several different capacities. [although elementary Dual (language) Immersion is not particularly one of them ]

The third paragraph of his posting - I think highlights the continuing Communication process (2-Way) problem the MVWSD has had over the last decade. Chris and I, as Governing Board Members (along with Phil Palmer) refused to allow the District Office/administrators to go ahead with splitting Castro - until there was more parent participation in the process. A "direction to the staff" informal straw vote! (3:2) (Trustee Ellen Wheeler, IMO as usual, wanted to just go along with staff recommendation)

I happen to also like Chiang's paragraph 4 recommendation on Stevenson / PACT. That site and that separate "Stevenson Foundation" (a non-PTA California non-profit corporation) has been a legal-compliance issue in the past - even through the middle of my term on the Board. Chiang's recommendation - can be added to the official AGENDA of the Bd. / by any public member Written Request to the Board (President). It needs to have detail, and it needs to indicate "Discussion" or "Discussion and Action" (which needs specific wording for a Board Policy).

17 people like this
Posted by EponymousCA
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2019 at 7:12 pm

EponymousCA is a registered user.

The superintendent could have done better than defend the decision to exclude parents from discussions of the school's teaching model with spurious hypothetical commentary about how the parents would have been intolerant of an honest look at how teachers were struggling with their educational mission. Many parents are more understanding and compassionate than he realizes.

As everyone casts stones at Rudolph, we shouldn't ignore the white elephant (with red hair) in the room who turned the school changes into a divisive issue pitting staff against parents and Spanish-speakers against Anglophones. I thought the new principal was supposed to build an inclusive community, not Balkanize the school. When is her term going to expire?

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