“Demotion” of the Office of Multilingual Curriculum, [v.2]

Board of Education Testimony, 1/28/21

by Dr. Cheri Micheau
I would like to address the “demotion” of the Office of Multilingual Curriculum and Programs that has occurred this school year with no official announcement or discussion. As you may know, the Office of Multilingual Curriculum and Programs was until fairly recently a deputy-level department under the Academic Support Office.  With no notice, it has been moved downward on the org chart to a subsidiary position under the Curriculum and Instruction Office.  It’s interesting to see that “Athletics,” for example, remains a deputy-level department.  What’s wrong with this picture? There are several problems with this move:

First, it is very concerning that OMCP, an office tasked with very specialized services and information sharing for over 16,000 students in the SDP—students mentioned many times this evening when talking about literacy acquisition——, is now under the auspices of a deputy with no apparent background in curriculum development, much less in EL education.  Whenever the SDP needs a good sound bite or a photo op, they claim that English Learner equity and quality instruction are high priorities, a claim that has rarely been demonstrated through more than a largely symbolic nod to this group.  What will be the result of excluding the voice of an expert in the EL field from deputy-level decision making?  Without a deputy-level voice at the table, I predict further erosion of English Learner programs and services, starting at an already way-too-low bar.

Second, the Office of Multilingual Curriculum and Programs——as even its name inadequately indicates—- has a multitude of tasks and responsibilities, not just instructional, but also involving tracking legal compliance and raising cultural awareness.  One responsibility is, indeed, the development of new curriculum and adaptations of grade-level curriculum to meet the needs of English Learners at all grade levels.  In addition to the curricular aspect of their work, however, they are responsible for, for example:

  • ensuring that schools are following all federal guidelines in services to English Learners and their families;
  • reclassifying or “exiting” students through a very complex process laid out by the state of Pennsylvania; 
  • monitoring students who have been reclassified for two years, by gathering input from their teachers;
  • maintaining accurate data on English Learners and their families;
  • supporting the registration and initial placement testing of new students;
  • overseeing the annual standardized assessment of English Learners with the ACCESS test, including assisting schools in scheduling testing, ordering testing materials, troubleshooting during the testing window, and analyzing the results as the basis for making programmatic decisions; 
  • building the skills and knowledge of teachers of English Learners through professional development, such as QTEL, as well as in-school visits; 
  • making decisions on staffing of ESOL teachers at schools, based on accurate EL data, as well as overseeing the “itinerant ESOL teacher” program; 
  • evaluating the effectiveness of second language programs, and supporting the development of new programs, such as bilingual or newcomer programs; 
  • further expanding, adapting, and implementing their Policy 138, as well as meeting with community groups to gather input on aspects of that policy;
  • collaborating with school administrators in building and improving their EL services and outreach to families, including building culturally appropriate services and language access for families;
  • advising schools on providing ELs and their families with relevant special education services (and for informing families of their rights under special education law);
  • educating school staff on all aspects of high school applications and LeGare Consent Decree procedures, as well as assisting in the selection of students in the follow-up round of admissions through LeGare;
  • and, of course, ensuring that all English Learners gain access to all programs such as gifted programs or special-admission high schools, that are open to all students of the SDP;     
  • ….and the list goes on.  

Because there had not been qualified leadership in OMCP in recent years, and because OMCP was not an active or effective advocate for EL issues, it is possible that the office came to be seen as irrelevant or unnecessary.  This was NOT because of the essential roles that OMCP is meant to play, however.  As can be seen by the list above, these are key services that must be fulfilled by an appropriately qualified staff in a department that is fully supported, respected, and consulted in decision making by leaders at 440.  It is unclear to what extent OMCP’s myriad responsibilities will be completed and overseen in this new organizational structure.  I predict that without a voice at the table, the power of OMCP to accomplish its mission and to improve the lives of ELs will be even further diminished.