Wisconsin District's Dual-Language Program Prompts Concerns

Courtney Williams's picture
Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Students in the Madison School District's dual-language immersion program are less likely than students in English-only classrooms to be black or Asian, come from low-income families, need special education services or have behavioral problems, according to a district analysis.

School Board members have raised concerns about the imbalance of diversity and other issues with the popular program.

As a result, Superintendent Dan Nerad wants to put on hold expansion plans at Hawthorne, Stephens and Thoreau elementaries and delay the decision to the spring on how to expand the program to La Follette High School in 2013.

"While the administration remains committed to the (dual-language) program and to the provision of bilingual programming options for district students, I believe there is substantial value in identifying, considering and responding to these concerns," Nerad wrote in a memo to the board.

In Madison's program, both native English and Spanish speakers receive 90 percent of their kindergarten instruction in Spanish, with the mix steadily increasing to 50-50 by fourth grade.

Sergio Gonzalez, board president of Nuestro Mundo, the charter school that launched the program in 2004, said he understands why the district is proceeding with caution, but plans to continue advocating for expansion.

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