Denver’s bilingual education programs threatened by school closures

Kalyah Rodriguez rallies with her mother, Edlyn Rodriguez, to keep a bilingual program.
Kalyah Rodriguez rallies with her mother, Edlyn Rodriguez, to keep a bilingual program. Her sign says “Ser Bilingüe Es Mi Superpoder,” which means “Being Bilingual is my Superpower.” Photo: Melanie Asmar/Chalkbeat

Denver’s court-mandated bilingual education for Spanish-speaking students is facing significant threats because of declining enrollment and school closures.

Why it matters: A federal court order, most recently amended in 2013, requires that the district offer educational lessons in Spanish as a way to represent the culture and history of the students.

  • Research indicates that bilingual education is effective at teaching students to build core academic skills in Spanish and English, and transition to learning more English over time.

Threat level: Every school with at least 60 English-learning students who speak Spanish must offer the program. But existing programs are losing students as high housing costs and falling birth rates reduce enrollment in historically Latino neighborhoods.

  • 15 of the 27 Denver schools listed for possible closure offer bilingual education known as transitional native language instruction, or TNLI.
  • That’s nearly a quarter of all the district’s bilingual classrooms, our education reporting partners at Chalkbeat write.

Of note: Earlier this year, the district threatened to shutter four small bilingual programs at elementary schools before backing down.

What they’re saying: “We are very sad by the fact that declining enrollment is impacting our bilingual schools,” said Nadia Madan Morrow, a former bilingual teacher who is now the district’s chief academic officer. “We’re working hard to figure out how to deliver native language instruction in schools that are continually shrinking.”

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