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Elsa Falkenburger Testimony – DCPS Performance Oversight Hearing – February 21, 2018

My name is Elsa Falkenburger. I am the Communications co-chair for the Tyler Elementary PTA, chair of the newly formed Tyler Advocacy Subcommittee, and parent to one first grader, Lucie, and a rising preK-3 student, Theo.

As my fellow Tyler parents have testified, I would like to reiterate how critical it is to ensure a safe, healthy learning environment for our children. I hope that we can also focus our efforts on enriching the educational opportunities as well.

Tyler Elementary offers DCPS a unique opportunity to showcase what it is truly capable of. First, Tyler is in the heart of capitol hill, a large elementary school of 520 students with a very small boundary catchment area. This means that students outside of the immediate neighborhood have an opportunity to attend, unlike many of the other Ward 6 elementary schools. A true example of “school choice in action” in the midst of a school lottery system that is failing many families.

Second, Tyler is both racially and economically diverse – a title 1 school in the center of a rapidly gentrifying part of the city. Parents chose to send their children to Tyler because of this diversity in the student body and the programming offered.

Finally, Tyler offers three programs under 1 roof: a traditional program, a dual language Spanish program, and special education program.
Investing in Tyler means investing in a single school that offers a chance to create innovative solutions and approaches needed across our entire school system.

My testimony today focuses on the dual language program.

Our family is in-bounds for Tyler. In fact, we bought our house back in 2010 in great part because we would have access to Tyler and the dual language program it offers. We have had an excellent experience thus far, but have also uncovered a number of challenges that make the Tyler experience uneven for different families and weaker in the older grades that lead to significant reduction in enrollment.

I know that you heard from the Director of the DC Language Immersion Project last week, Vanessa Bertelli. I agree with her testimony and will not repeat the strong points she made and that Patrick just highlighted about the value and merit of a dual language education. For our children, the city, employers and other stakeholders to reap these benefits, we must invest in and strengthen DCPS’s dual language program infrastructure and the support and oversight it offers dual language schools. I have four primary suggestions:

1. Outreach to all Tyler families to ensure they understand the value of a dual language education, how this approach can benefit their child, and meeting the demand for this kind of program.

Research shows that a dual language education can help increase racial and socioeconomic diversity and integration in schools, help close the achievement gap, and significantly increases employment opportunities and earnings for students in the long- term, meeting employer demands for multi-lingual employees with high levels of cultural competency. And yet, the Tyler community often refers to the dual language program as the “resource families” and the traditional program as the “non-resource families”. This is highly problematic.

Ensuring all Tyler families have access to strong programming and the information
necessary to make the right decision for their child will ensure equity and a stronger sense of community among Tyler families, teachers and administration.

As we strive to ensure all families have access to full information about the program they
chose for their children, we must also ensure we can meet the demand for that programming. As a first step, we should have access to better data on how many families are applying to Tyler’s dual language program.

2. Assessments designed for dual language programs. Students come and leave Tyler Elementary with a wide range of language proficiency. But I can only say this anecdotally due to a lack of assessment tools and data. Teachers need better tools to assess language proficiency and ensure that the pathway to biliteracy is scaffolded from PK3 all the way through 5th grade. Given that parents who chose a dual language program are prioritizing that component of their child’s education but often do not speak that language themselves, it is critical that they are able to monitor their child’s progress with assessments that provide data consistently throughout the elementary school years. Currently, teachers are left to design their own methods of assessment that do not demonstrate progress over time.

  1. Guidance, training and supports for teachers. Currently ECE at Tyler is Spanish immersion (90% Spanish), Kinder is 50/50, and starting in 1st grade the students are taught certain subjects in Spanish and other in English, half the day in each language. This requires a solid methodology that is highly coordinated between teachers who are teaching the same students but in different languages. Our dual language first grade has 2 teachers. One teaches in English, the other in Spanish. Each classroom spends half the day with one teacher, and half with the other. This means that each teacher is responsible for nearly 50 students – 50 assessments, communication with 50 sets of parents, and the additional lift that is not required but necessary for teachers to coordinate to ensure that they are reinforcing what their student’s other teacher is covering. Compare this with the arts immersion teachers who have smaller classes, and the same students throughout the day. With the right training, guidance and support from DCPS, a team approach to teaching in the dual language program could be a real strength rather than a challenge.
  2. DCPS must offer Tyler families in the dual language program a better middle school option to continue their Spanish language education. Suggesting that children, many who live in Wards 7 and 8, commute to McFarland Middle School with no offer of transportation is not a viable option. This is yet another factor that leads families to leave Tyler early, as they seek out spots in charter or other schools that offer continuity of education through middle school and in some cases, high school.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.

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