Original URL: http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36%257E73%257E1086171,00.html

Better ways to English Editorial
The Denver Post
January 03, 2003

 Denver Public Schools committees are studying ways to give English-language learners more choices in their education.

One of those proposals, which would create "supported immersion" programs in at least four schools, deserves special consideration by the school board - if it makes it that far.

It was billed at a school board meeting as a "kinder" version of the English-immersion Amendment 31, rejected last month by 56 percent of Colorado voters.

But it also could be a preemptive move should another Amendment 31-type proposal come before voters again.

The plan has some similarities to the "structured immersion" sought by the backers of Amendment 31, according to Sally Mentor Hayes, DPS's chief academic officer. She briefed DPS board members on the proposal last month.

However, there's one key difference: Spanish, or other languages, would not be banned from the classroom.

Under Amendment 31, bilingual education would have been scrapped in favor of a one-year English-immersion course. Students would have been taught only in English from
day one.

Under this plan, students would function in English, but if they were having a difficult time understanding a particular subject or the meaning of a word, the instructor could revert to the student's native language, primarily Spanish.

"You recognize the fact that they aren't native English speakers, so you can't just teach your science lesson as if everyone grew up knowing these terms," Hay told the board. "It's a kinder version."

In DPS's court-ordered English Language Acquisition program, children spend up to three years learning English before they are mainstreamed into regular classrooms. The decision of whether to place a child in bilingual education, however, is the parent's.

Since every child has different needs and abilities, Michele Bernadett, head of ELA, would favor some type of supported immersion program. She said it's just one of the proposals being discussed by teachers, parents and language specialists.

We think it's certainly worthy of more in-depth discussion and resources if DPS decides to move in that direction.

DPS, which wouldn't have been subject to the parameters of Amendment 31 without a judge's order, would do well to remember that the amendment's defeat wasn't a message from Coloradans that bilingual education is working, or that it is the best way to teach immigrant students English.

We opposed Amendment 31 because we found it too punitive and simply not the right answer to how we educate non-English-speaking students.

A "supported immersion" program would offer some parents another choice of how their children learn English.

Meanwhile, lawmakers may take up the immersion battle. Rep. Richard Decker has floated the idea of requiring non-English speaking students to take two years of English immersion courses instead of bilingual education.

The system needs fixing, but we hope lawmakers will be careful not to repeat the mistakes of Amendment 31.