Language in America - Bilingual Education
|For twenty years,
bilingual education advocates have suggested that
language-minority children learn best in their
"native" languages. New test results from
California disprove that theory, and show that English-
language classrooms are the key to better education for
these most vulnerable students.
Voters Reject Bilingual Education Programs:
A quarter-century ago, California gave us "bilingual education," and now the most populous state is ending it. In 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California had to provide some type of special educational assistance for language-minority students. Source: Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974). Over the next 26 years, that assistance generally was "native language instruction" teaching children in their native language instead of English. Unfortunately, fewer than 7% of language-minority children ever learned enough in these "native language instruction" programs to graduate to "mainstream" classes taught in English.
In June, 1998, California voters approved Proposition 227 the "English for the Children" initiative, headed by software entrepreneur Ron Unz by a vote of 61% to 39%, including a large vote from language-minority voters. The successful Unz initiative eliminated "native language instruction" in most cases, and substituted at least a year of intensive English-language instruction and primarily English-language classes.
The initiative was challenged in court the day after passage, but the federal courts upheld the initiative. Since June, Hispanic parents in other states, such as Arizona, have announced plans to duplicate the Unz initiative in their states.
What is "Bilingual Education?"
There are two basic types of bilingual education:
Federal law reserves three-fourths of all federal bilingual education funds for "native language instruction." In "native language instruction," a student might receive as little as 45 minutes of instruction in English a day, prolonging the students stay in the "bilingual" classroom for several years, and violating the simple rule that "practice makes perfect."
Some native language instruction methods are absurd. In Los Angeles, with the highest concentration of language-minority children of any major city, a common method of "teaching" English was to send non-English- speaking children out for three hours of recess on the playground each day; "mixing," as this "instruction" was called, was accepted by the Los Angeles School District was adequate instruction even though Carmen Schroeder, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, called it "a waste of time." Source: Terri Hardy, "LAUSD Plays At Teaching," Los Angeles Daily News, December 21, 1997, A1.
How Bilingual Education Has Failed:
Many parents of bilingual education students detest the programs which trap their children. As Ernesto Ortiz, a foreman on a south Texas ranch, put it: "My children learn Spanish in school so they can become busboys and waiters. I teach them English at home so they can become doctors and lawyers." Source: Congressional Record, December 5, 1995, P. H 13932.
Statistics bear out Mr. Ortizs concern. The vast majority of children trapped in what the New York Times called "A Bilingual Prison," Source: Editorial, "A Bilingual Prison," The New York Times, September 21, 1995, A22, emerge illiterate in English. California was spending more than a billion dollars a year on bilingual education classes, yet the "graduation" rate of bilingual education students to English-language classes was less than seven percent. Source: Julian Guthrie, "Only the Beginning," San Francisco Examiner, May 15, 1997. That meant that 93% of the children in bilingual education classes were failing to learn English well enough to function in school or society.
U.S. News & World Report reported: "[bilingual education] was born of good intentions, but today it has mushroomed into a $10,000,000,000-a-year bureaucracy that not only cannot promise that students will learn English but may actually do some children more harm than good." Source: "Tongue-tied in the schools," U.S. News & World Report, September 25, 1995, 44. The New York Times called bilingual education "a system that dragoons children into bilingual programs that reinforce the students dependency on their native language and then makes escape impossible." Source: Editorial, "A Bilingual Prison," The New York Times, September 21, 1995, A22.
Some parents are taking the fight into their own hands. In Orange County, Oakland, San Jose, and Sacramento, California, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Brooklyn, New York, parents have sued their local school districts, seeking more English-language instruction for their kids. Several of the California suits were successful, but the New York and several other lawsuits were dismissed.
Federal Action on Bilingual Education:
The federal Department of Education is hopelessly locked into support for failed native language instruction programs.
This year Congress is considering the "Parents Know Best" Act, which would give parents the choice of whether their child is taught in an English-language classroom or in less-successful bilingual education programs. The House passed this "parental choice" provision as part of an overall education bill, but the Senate has yet to act on the bill.
Alternatives to Failed Bilingual Education Programs:
Proponents of failed bilingual education programs claim that eliminating native language instruction will leave language minority children without assistance ("sink or swim"). In fact, there are many English-language-based programs which have proven successful to help language minority children.
English as a Second Language (ESL) programs, which provide "sheltered English learning" assistance to language minority children, are very effective in teaching both English and academic subjects. In California, for example, after passage of the "English for the Children" initiative, Los Angeles classrooms became overwhelmingly English-language; Anita Solomon, a certified bilingual third-grade teacher at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School, said she "was astounded how many of [her students] read my classroom rules [in English]." Source: Bettina Boxall, "With Gestures, but Not Chaos, Prop. 227 Begins," Los Angeles Times, August 4, 1998, A1.
The astonishing results continued in 1999. After the first year of English-language classes, California students took standardized tests. In every school district which had implemented English-language classes, test scores shot up dramatically. In Oceanside, California, for example, language-minority children had an increase of almost 200% in their test scores.
In other schools across the country, ESL programs have been able to teach English to language minority children. A recent ten-year longitudinal study by the READ Institute "proves beyond doubt that special, English-intensive, content-based instruction from the first day of school, and the early development of literacy in English for [language minority] students produces superior results up to grade 6, and comparable results in grades 7 through 12." Source: Rosalie Pedalino Porter, "Introduction," Vol. V, READ Perspectives, No. 1, Spring 1998, 2.