Origianl URL: http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36%257E417%257E1001248,00.html

Amendment 31, part deux

The Denver Post, November 20, 2002

State Rep. Richard Decker says he just wants kids to learn English.

Fair enough.

But in our zeal to make sure kids speak English, we must not take educational opportunities away from English-speaking children who want to learn other languages.

Decker says that wasn't his intent when he floated possible legislation to require non-English speaking students to take two years of English immersion courses, instead of bilingual education, and questioned the need for teaching other languages to elementary-school children.

"I'm not really saying that," Decker said Tuesday regarding teaching other languages to English-speaking kids. "I think it's important for children who don't already speak English to get up to two good years of English instruction. I don't care if students who already speak English well want to learn to speak another language."

Gracias, Rep. Decker. Or should we say, merci.

If students are proficient in English, at grade level, and desire to speak another language, they should be encouraged to do so. Learning a second language is often easier at an earlier age. And if a school has the resources to teach a second language to elementary school students, we say go for it.

Once voters had given a thumbs-down to the English-immersion Amendment 31, the debate over teaching English to students moved back under the dome. Myriad bills could surface, but Decker authored a House Report last week that gave a first glimpse of legislation to come.

In it, the Fountain Republican wrote that he favors a bill that would replace bilingual education with English immersion for up to two years. He also said it won't contain the punitive measures that turned many voters off to Amendment 31.

It will be a kinder, gentler version, he promised Tuesday.

"I'm not interested in doing away with bilingual education." he said. "Bilingual education is for the purpose of perpetuating a culture. If local school districts want to pay for that, it's up to them."

He says that some type of immersion program should be employed; it should be limited to two years; and kids should not be restricted to solely learning English in those two years. If someone is proficient before then, he or she should be transitioned into the regular classroom setting.

Decker must decide exactly what he's after before he submits any bill. Obviously, he has more research to do. He admits that.

"I just want to be sure they do learn English first. I think we need to make a statement that English is important."

Borrowing an idea from KOA's Mike Rosen, Decker said students who speak languages other than Spanish don't have bilingual programs available to them. English immersion is their only option, and it works.

Decker, like many Coloradans, is concerned that Americans are losing their native tongue.

That's understandable. But in an effort to preserve it, or to make sure children learn to speak English, we can't limit the opportunities of others. That includes English-speaking students who want to learn other languages.

We continue to believe that Colorado's present provisions for English-language learning need improvement. But we hope that, as lawmakers seek ways to do that, they will be careful not to repeat the mistakes of Amendment 31.

And, for pity's sake, they shouldn't add new wrinkles.


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