Parent: Racism is at the heart of Connecticut’s ELL failures

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Connecticut’s school policies don’t value the language and the culture that English language learners bring to the societal table. Said differently, the people who make laws and set educational policies along with those who oversee educating our children — legislators, voters, commissioners of education, union officials, boards of education members and superintendents of schools — don’t value immigrants.

This may sound like a harsh and emotional statement, however I assure you it is not, as the information presented in the Connecticut Mirror’s three part series Searching for solutions, speaks for itself.

When it comes to educating poor children, special needs children and immigrant children, often the people in decision-making positions do not have the personality, emotional intelligence, life experience or profound desire to do what’s best for those affected — in this case, English language learners. There is a subtle and unconscious lack of respect by the privileged, college-educated community, many of whom have never had to struggle or face the issues they are trying to solve. Their education lands them a very important job that impacts many lives daily, but provides them no practical experience or true understanding of what it is to walk a mile in the shoes of the ones they are trying to help.

Racial bias, implicit bias and a lack of respect are all real problems that no one has had the courage to tackle. These biases are associations or mental connections that we may consciously believe are wrong or problematic, like racial stereotypes that cloud our judgement. We learn these associations from the media, from our family and friends, and in our classrooms and workplaces. As a result, we complicate situations and deflect from the real issues instead of addressing the difficult topics of racism in all its forms. Many people are conditioned to this way of thinking without even knowing it, but are afraid to look within themselves and acknowledge this is a problem and move forward with trying to resolve it.

As a parent advocate and New Britain resident I am intimately familiar with the failures of educating English language learners and have seen first hand the covert racism that plagues urban school districts. In October 2012, the dual language program my children and family had loved was dismantled in the most disrespectful manner. Parents were not consulted or informed in any way that their children would no longer receive instruction in Spanish and English as they were accustomed to. Parents never had a chance to voice their opinion or vote on the changes being imposed. This would never happen in a suburban school district.

School started in September and unbeknownst to parents, the curriculum had already changed. A few weeks into the school year parents started to notice that there was no more Spanish homework and began to question what was going on. A new superintendent, Kelt Cooper, came to town that summer and implemented a plan to sabotage the program to create a case for English-only instruction. The board of education president and other board members stood silently and allowed this to happen. The school district has slowly eliminated bilingual education in favor of the standardized test-driven learn-English-at-all-costs method.

Take for example, Steven Adamowski, current superintendent of schools in Norwalk. Adamowski failed miserably in Hartford, Windham and New London while disrupting instruction and alienating parents, teachers and students. Why has the state allowed this person to continue wreaking havoc on more school districts and negatively impacting children’s lives? This is a serious subject.

I work in life insurance, which is not a serious job. I’ll bet my paycheck that my yearly evaluations are much more robust– and the consequences, of poor performance — are much more serious than those of a superintendent of schools or a state commissioner of education. How do we allow this man to continue working in this very import job while collecting an extremely handsome salary in districts that can’t afford to educate their students?

Educating English Learners has been a problem for more than three decades. This is not a new issue. Ask yourself why can’t we get it right? My response goes back to racism and bias.

As a society, we don’t think this population is deserving of the funding required to properly educated poor students, special needs students and English language learners.

Aggie Kurzyna is a parent advocate whose children attend Slade Middle School and  Smith School in New Britain.

What do you think?

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