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Districts Adopt Mexican Curriculum to Help Hispanic Students

Several school districts in the South and West that serve large populations of Spanish-speaking immigrant students are moving to align their middle- and high-school curriculae with what is being taught in Mexico.

Public school districts in California, Texas, Washington state, Florida, Oregon, among others, are desperately looking for ways to prevent large numbers of immigrant students from falling behind in their classes while they struggle to learn English. Providing bilingual education can be a daunting task where there is a dearth of Spanish-speaking teachers. In Oregon, while just 2 percent of teachers are Hispanic, 15 percent of students are of that background.

 One of the most creative solutions to this problem is to use supplemental and Web-based Spanish language curriculum that is being provided in cooperation with the Mexican Ministry of Education. Mexico has a single national curriculum, and the central government has developed high-quality materials, including many more distance-learning classes designed for self-study, than are being used in American schools.

As a result, there are more than 600 courses, ranging from kindergarten to college, available to U.S. schools for free using Spanish textbooks, DVDs, videos and online materials. The online programs have turned out to be particularly useful because Spanish-speaking students in the United States can get help from teachers in Mexico.

These materials are being tested in 30 schools in Washington state, and have also been adopted in the Palm Beach, Fla., school district, which has over 19,000 students in its English as a Second Language classes. When the program was introduced in Palm Beach in 2006, Margarita Pinkos, a deputy of policy for the U.S. Department of Education, said she thought it was a great service for the children and she hoped it could be disseminated it throughout the country.

One of the foremost advocates of this approach is Dr. Felipe Alanis, associate dean of the University of Texas Division of Continuing Education and director of its K-16 Education Center. His goal is to provide coursework from Mexico that is at least 70 percent aligned with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum requirements. Thanks to a federal grant, participating school districts will receive $500,000 to buy computer equipment and train teachers.

“The goal is to allow students to continue to keep up with the content of their classes in Spanish, while they are going through the process of learning English,” he said.

The program will also help schools evaluate students’ transcripts to place them in the proper grades. Alanis said that even if a student has successfully completed a few years of high school in Mexico, Texas automatically places them in the 9th grade if the student doesn’t speak English.

“This often leads to frustration and extremely high drop out rates,” he said.

Now, students can use the Mexican courses to get credit in algebra, biology, geometry, chemistry, world history, physics and economics. Electives include accounting, sociology, business management, technology applications, and pre-calculus. In addition, some Mexican schools are beginning to allow immigrant students in the U.S. to use these distance courses to earn their high school diplomas in Mexico.

Is the Mexican curriculum is as rigorous as what is taught in the United States? Alanis’s research concluded that Mexican classes usually cover less material but in much greater depth. For example, if a Texas biology class specifies 29 learning objectives, a similar class in Mexico has 19 or 20.

–Paul Ruffins

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