Original URL:  http://www.indystar.com/print/articles/4/001151-2314-021.html

Bilingual ed moving toward extinction

Indianapolis Star
Saturday, November 16, 2002

Our position is: Money for Spanish-speaking students should go to the most effective instruction, which is English immersion.

Bilingual education is on its last legs. A major blow was struck four years ago when California passed a sweeping referendum ordering all-English instruction in the state's public schools. An equally devastating thrust to the vitals was delivered this month when voters in Massachusetts replaced bilingual education with an intensive English-immersion program. Colorado voters did the same.

The two ballot initiatives mandate that public schools teach all classes in English. Teachers may use a student's native language only to help explain a complex question or theory. Together, the proposals signal the impending demise of a faulty educational orthodoxy that has cheated thousands of Hispanic youngsters of a better economic future. The doctrine flies in the face of reason and experience.

For generations, schools expected immigrant children to learn English through need and absorption. Learn it, they did, readily and eagerly because their families understood it was vital to achievement. By contrast, bilingual education has kept Hispanic students needlessly languishing for years in bilingual programs, sometimes even into high school.

Indiana lawmakers have approved only a minimum of bonus aid for the estimated 15,000 Hispanic students in public schools. Superintendent of Public Instruction Suellen Reed unsuccessfully asked the 2001 session of the General Assembly for $24 million to help children who can't speak English. At the time, The Star urged that if such funding were granted, it carry specific restrictions on how it would be spent.

The caveat was in order. Only immersion in English has proved successful. After decades of experimentation, bilingual education is widely discredited. Study after study showed lower student scores, higher dropout rates and a lack of fluency in English. Moreover, Hispanic students who went through bilingual programs have markedly depressed earnings when compared to their Hispanic peers who were educated in English only.

If sense prevails, Massachusetts will be seen as the graveyard of bilingual education.

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