Tags: Bilingual | Education | Tested | Tuesday

Bilingual Education to Be Tested Tuesday

Sunday, 03 November 2002 12:00 AM

The proposals are backed by Silicon Valley millionaire Ron K. Unz, who successfully supported similar referenda in California in 1998 and Arizona in 2000.

Bilingual education teaches students non-language courses such as history, reading and arithmetic in their native tongue, while they are taught English in separate classes.

In English immersion, students are taught only English for a year, and then are moved to the general school population.

In both Colorado and Massachusetts, parents would be able to apply for waivers to continue with bilingual education, but officials don't have to approve the requests.

People on both sides of the issue say they want non-English speaking students to learn English so they can become effective participants in American society. They just can't agree on the best way to do it.

Supporters of the English-only approach say teaching students in Spanish, and expecting them to learn English down the road, is a recipe for failure. Supporters of bilingual education say delaying instruction on other subjects will drop students hopelessly behind their English-speaking counterparts.

A bilingual instructional assistant, who asked not to be identified by name, said she deals with the issue every day in her first-grade classroom in Camden, N.J. "Any program will work if it is well-implemented," she said. "I do believe that it's a great help for children from other countries to continue learning skills in their own language, but they should be mainstreamed within two years."

She said in her school district some children stay in the bilingual program as long as five years because the children have to pass a test before they are mainstreamed.

She said the testing does not always reflect the ability of children to use English. Those who fail may do so because of a lack of other skills when it comes to taking the test, and it wouldn't matter if they spoke English or Spanish.

"Sometimes they are in the bilingual classroom much too long. It may not be because they don't speak English, but they may not be able to pass the tests. If their name was Smith, they wouldn't pass the test, anyway," she said.

In Colorado, where supporters and opponents are in a statistical tie, the combatants are using emotion more than reason in an increasingly bitter campaign.

Opponents who favor bilingual education said the amendment "will knowingly force children who can barely speak English into regular classrooms, creating chaos and disrupting learning."

One commercial said the amendment "would force teachers who try to help children in their native language to face lawsuits and be banned from teaching for five years."

Robert Linquanti of WestEd, who wrote a report for the California Legislature this year on the two-year impact of Proposition 227 bilingual ban, said a definitive evaluation of its effectiveness was elusive.

"The majority of schools and districts reported that Proposition 227 had no influence on the redesignation of English learners to fluent English proficient status," said the report funded by American Institutes for Research and WestEd, an educational policies think tank.

Seven percent of California students were moved to mainstream English classes in 1998 before the initiative went into effect, and that improved to only 7.8 percent in 2002.

But the report also said there is now more of a focus on educating non-English speakers, and it is popular among educators and community participants.

So the battle continues in California, and occasionally it gets nasty. Santa Ana, Calif., has scheduled a recall vote Feb. 25 for school board member Nativo Lopez, who has been promoting bilingual education despite Prop. 227.

Conservatives tend to favor banning bilingual education, but the issue crosses party lines.

Secretary of Education Rod Paige believes bilingual education decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis and not by referendum.

"Whether or not it is advisable to completely shut the door on native-language instruction is a decision that has to be made at the point of instruction," Paige says.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney favors the ban in Massachusetts, but Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, another Republican, joins Paige in opposing it.

Unz, who has put about $1 million into the anti-bilingual movement, says several tests "show that limited-English students in English-oriented programs outscore their bilingual education peers by a factor of three.

"Taken together, all these reports raise an obvious question: If all real-life evidence shows that bilingual education is harmful, why defend it?" he said.

Win or lose, Unz is expected to carry on. Oregon, Illinois and New York are likely to be the next states on his agenda.

The National Association for Bilingual Education will oppose it whenever and wherever the challenge pops up.

"We think it's a terrible idea. The reason is we believe that you should never limit the choices of communities, teachers and parents to determine the kind of instruction a child receives," said spokesman Jaime Zapata.

He said research clearly shows that students who aren't proficient in English need the support of their native language in other subjects.

"Every child should have the opportunity to become proficient in English," Zapata said. "Where bilingual education is more effective hands down is in academic content. Bilingual education makes sure the children learn English and understand the academic content."

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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The proposals are backed by Silicon Valley millionaire Ron K. Unz, who successfully supported similar referenda in California in 1998 and Arizona in 2000. Bilingual education teaches students non-language courses such as history, reading and arithmetic in their native...
Sunday, 03 November 2002 12:00 AM
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