Testimony of Dr. Cheri Micheau to the Board of Education, September 19, 2019

Policy 138 Meetings on the Education of English Learners

The School District’s Office of Multilingual Curriculum and Programs (OMCP) is holding community meetings this week (9/17-18) and next (9/26) with the stated goal of monitoring the implementation of Policy 138 (English Language/Bilingual education Programs). Although monitoring is the stated goal, silencing community members who are critical of that office’s work seems to be the underlying goal.

I am attaching a document and linking you to an article that I hope you will take a look at, since they will give you more background on the concerns that many community members and teachers share about the ineffectiveness and inaction of this office.

The attached document is a long list of concerns brainstormed by the public at last year’s Policy 138 meeting. At the close of that meeting, leadership thanked us for our input and promised to think about “next steps.” Apparently those next steps are yet to be taken. Of the many topics——-which were mentioned again very frequently at this year’s meetings, at School Board meetings of the past year, and which have been known to EL advocates for years——almost none has been addressed by the office. In fact, in the introductory presentation for this year’s meetings, leadership gave a stunningly short list of accomplishments, many of which were not directly linked to that office’s efforts. For example, they touted their correction of data errors in such areas as home language; I assume that work fell to the IT Office. I have no way of knowing whether additional initiatives and improvements have been undertaken by OMCP, but leadership provided no evidence of further efforts to address the many problems identified by last year’s Policy 138 meeting participants. Nor did they discuss the concerns addressed by speakers at the special session of the Student Achievement Committee meeting (Spring 2019), such as instruction for newcomers, the push-in mandate, and the identification of ELs with special education needs. Last evening, when I asked a specific question about how the feedback would be used to make improvements, the discussion was shut down quite abruptly and no answer was provided. At no point in these meetings were participants invited to ask questions; rather, presenters rushed from their short introduction into the “table talk” portion of the evening. It is clear that the format of these meetings was designed to prevent community input——to prevent the community from demanding better services, to silence critical voices.

It was especially interesting to me to notice at the second of the two meetings (9/18), where no parents and only about 8 to 10 teachers and community members were in attendance, that we nevertheless were divided into three tables for ‘brainstorming.” At one of the three tables sat the majority of OMCP staff and the deputy, along with one staff member from FACE and a School Board member; not even one community member was included at that table. There was no interest on the part of these representatives of 440, apparently, in hearing what the guests——-teachers and community members—-had to say. This was a stunning—-though not at all surprising—- demonstration of the distance between stakeholders/practitioners and much of the leadership of this office. Or a demonstration of their apathy.

I am linking you to an commentary piece that I wrote for the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.  In that article I called for a more open and transparent process for providing feedback AND for holding OMCP accountable for their efforts or lack of effort. As noted above, the format of these meetings is highly problematic, but I believe, engineered to cut off open dialogue, For 45 of the 90 minutes, participants are farmed out to tables to “brainstorm” issues that need improvement. At each of the first two meetings, only about ten minutes at the end were devoted to groups’ sharing out. There was no opportunity at all for comments, reflection, Q & A, and whole-group discussion of the clear trends in the feedback, nor did leadership make a promise to address these. Rather, it was promised that they would send out the notes (goody, more notes) and “think abut next steps.” Nightmarish deja vu; last June all over again. Last year, we received the notes (attached), but heard nothing about next steps. Perhaps there were none? My commentary piece suggests that since the SDP does not hold this office accountable, and since lackluster performance and invisibility seem to be acceptable, the community needs to step up and make demands. But who will hear those demands? The School Board, I hope. Here is my demand: I demand that someone take an interest in holding this office accountable and getting them to move forward, in the interest of English Learners and their families. Allowing such inaction, when the needs are so great, is an outrage.