Eight members of BPS task force resign over inclusive education changes

Eight member of the English Learners Task Force have resigned in protest of parts of the new Inclusive Education Plan moving the majority of English Language Learners to General Education classrooms.

“This shift represents a clear move away from expanding access to instruction in the students’ native languages and highlights a fundamental divide between EL Task Force leaders and BPS leaders that we no longer feel can be bridged,” the members wrote in a letter to the School Committee sent Tuesday. “For this reason, we write to you today to resign from the EL Task Force of the Boston School Committee.”

Under the Inclusive Education Plan — presented at the Oct. 18 School Committee meeting — English Learners (ELs) and ELs with disabilities would be integrated in General Education classrooms with English as a Second Language (ESL) support rather than being taught in separate classes in their native languages.

The EL Task Force was appointed in 2009 to support EL education in the district after the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation into the district’s ELL offerings and is made up of educators, parents, researchers and others.

The eight resigning members — more than half the task force — include co-chair Suzanne Lee; ELL policy researchers Maria Serpa, Rosann Tung and Miren Uriarte; local advocates John Mudd and Paulo De Barros; former SpEdPAC Chair Roxanne Harvey; and Gaston Institute leader Fabián Torres-Ardila.

“Although the district will maintain its dual language programs (serving 7% of ELs), the vast majority of ELs will be enrolled in General Education starting in the fall of 2024,” the task force members noted Tuesday.

In a statement, BPS spokesperson Max Baker said the district “thank(s) the members for their years of service” but evidence and DESE guidance makes clear the “status quo is not working for our multilingual learners.”

“Our District is committed to adopting inclusive practices so multilingual students have access to native language services, and receive their required services, while also engaging in learning alongside their peers,” Baker said, calling the Inclusive Education Plan a “roadmap for making these long-overdue systemic changes.”

In the recent Multicultural and Multilingual Education Strategic Plan, BPS set goals also altering educational services for multilingual learners including increasing bilingual programs by 25 the end of the 2024-25 school year and increasing bilingual paraprofessionals by 15% by the end of 2023-24.

The members’ letter argued the transition to teaching ELLs in classes primarily taught in English is not supported by research.

Evidence shows, they said, citing studies supporting bilingual education, the change may result in “poorer student outcomes, more disciplinary challenges in schools, and increased drop-out rates for the one-third of BPS students who are classified as English learners.”

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While BPS previously expressed concern separate classes “segregate” ELL students and cut them off from social interaction with other students, the letter said, they argue there are better ways to address the issue.

The members suggested a reconsideration more moderately blending classes and other steps to expand multilingual education, but stated if the planned changes occur they “urge” members to track and publicly report data on outcomes of the shift.

“We all agree that profound changes are needed to EL education in the Boston Public Schools. MCAS results show that current programs are failing to prepare over 90% of ELs and ELs with disabilities to achieve at passing levels and to graduate ready for college and career,” the letter said. “But the change that BPS is proposing is ill-advised and will be harmful to ELs.”

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