MALDEF Secures Landmark Education Victory in Texas

From the MALDEFian

Judge orders improvements in programs for English language learners

AUGUST 14, 2008 – Citing “palpable injustice” a federal court found that the State of Texas is failing to overcome the language barriers faced by tens of thousands of English Language Learner (ELL) students in the State’s public school secondary programs. MALDEF’s victory in United States v. Texas represents the most comprehensive judicial decision concerning the civil rights of ELLs in a quarter century.

The case was born out of long-standing discrimination against Latino students in Texas schools, which resulted in their inclusion in a 1981 Order that required the State of Texas to, among other things, provide appropriate and effective language educational programs for ELL students. Twenty-five years later, MALDEF and Multicultural Education Training and Advocacy, Inc. (META) filed a Motion under the Modified Order to enforce its terms. MALDEF argued that the State had failed to implement and monitor the bilingual and English as a Second Language (ESL) programs for ELL students in the state, resulting in the denial of equal educational opportunities for those students.

In July 2007, District Court Judge William Wayne Justice ruled that MALDEF was not entitled to the relief it sought. After MALDEF and META persisted in the case on behalf of ELL students, Judge Justice vacated his earlier ruling in its entirety. Finding that “[s]econdary…students in bilingual education fail terribly under every metric,” he ordered the State to create a language program for ELL secondary students and a monitoring system that met the requirements of the federal Equal Education Opportunity Act.

This ruling was a tremendous victory for ELL students in a state that has one of the highest percentages of ELLs in the country. In the 2004-05 school year, more than 15 percent of the student population in Texas’ public schools were identified as ELL. Ninety-three percent of those were Hispanic. According to the Texas Education Agency, only 13.1 percent of those students are recent immigrants.

The education system has significantly failed these students, allowing them to continue to experience the effects of the discrimination that first brought MALDEF to court on their behalf nearly 30 years ago. The court found that not only does the Texas Education Agency under-identify ELL students, but the “achievement standards for intervention are arbitrary and not based upon equal educational opportunity; the failing achievement of higher grades is masked by passing scores of lower grades; and the failure of individual school campuses is masked by only analyzing data on the larger district level.”

“Failed implementation cannot prolong the existence of a failed program into perpetuity,” the court concluded. Texas now has until January 2009 to come up with a revamped monitoring system that actually measures equal educational opportunities and an improved educational program for secondary ELL students. The new system will be introduced in the 2009-10 school year.

“This decision gives hope for the future of thousands of young Texans. Its importance cannot be overstated,” said MALDEF Staff Attorney David Hinojosa who, along with META, brought the case on behalf of LULAC and the American GI Forum.

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