Oregon Schools Adopt Mexican Curriculum, Stirring Debate
PORTLAND – Some Oregon high schools are adopting Mexico's public school curriculum to help educate Spanish-speaking students with textbooks, an online Web site, DVDs and CDs provided free by Mexico to teach math, science and even U.S. history.
The Oregon Department of Education and Mexico's Secretariat of Public Education are discussing aligning their curricula so courses will be valid in both countries.
Similar ventures are under way in Yakima, Wash., San Diego, Calif., and Austin, Texas.
"Students come to us with such complex issues," said Tim King, director of Clackamas Middle College and Clackamas Web Academy, where a virtual course using Mexico's learning materials got started this week.
"We've had to change in order to fit into each school scene, become more complex and open ourselves up to new situations."
Oregon officials say the approach is intended as a supplement to keep students learning in Spanish while also gaining English skills.
Until now, Oregon school districts generally have relied on bilingual aides or used Spanish material different from the English material others are studying.
"That's not enough," said Patrick Burk, chief policy officer with the superintendent's office of the Oregon Department of Education. He said the idea is minimal disruption for immigrant Latinos.
"The availability of resources is astounding," said Burk, who flew to Mexico with Oregon curriculum officials in August to discuss making equivalency standards official. "We're able to serve the students so much better if we're working together."
Mexico has made its national curriculum available to communities across the U.S. since 2001 to encourage Mexican adults and youths to continue an education often abandoned back home due to limited resources.
"We wanted people to be aware that they have to study," said Patricia Ramos, the director of national affairs for Mexico's Institute for Adult Education and National Advisory of Education for Life and Work.
"You have to dare to study and make use of technology because that way, it will be easier to adapt to where you now live."
In other places, the curriculum was used to educate students' parents, rescue dropouts and even teach inmates. A program exists now at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn.
The program caught the attention of public schools such as Reynolds High School in Troutdale and Marshall Night School, an alternative school based at Marshall High School in Portland.
At Marshall, the material has been used in night school and may soon move into daytime classrooms.
At Reynolds, educators began using part of Mexico's curriculum to teach a Spanish literacy class.
Students learned punctuation and sentence structure in Spanish and then saw improvement in English progress, said Dale Bernardini, a teacher who handles the partnership for Reynolds School District.
This fall, textbooks, DVDs and Mexico's curriculum Web were introduced in Francisco Rico's math classroom at Reynolds.
"We're just ahead with all the materials," he said. "We have the Web site where students can do exercises ... they can learn through visual and audio. We were having trouble bringing something that would be familiar to their culture."
In Washington state, nearly 30 schools have already implemented Mexico's curriculum into the classrooms.
In Oregon, learning materials are free, but districts must pay for staff. So far, two computer servers supporting Mexico's Web site cost the state about $10,000 to install and about $2,200 annually to maintain.
One of the biggest challenges will be finding more Spanish-speaking instructors, said Burk of the Oregon Department of Education.
He said about 15 percent of Oregon students are Latino, compared with 2 percent of teachers.