Immersion vote reflects support by immigrants
Boston Globe, 11/17/2002
By Kimberly Atkins, Globe Staff Correspondent
At first glance, it may seem that voters' sound rejection of bilingual education
in Quincy, which has the
state's largest number of residents who primarily speak an Asian language, was
meant to send a
message to the immigrant population.
But a deeper look into the immigrant community shows the premium they place on
''We are here. This is our home. This is our country,'' said Jonathan Yip,
administrator of constituent
services in Quincy City Hall's Office of Equal Opportunity. He said many Asian
Americans in the city told
him they supported Question 2, which replaces bilingual programs with English
immersion. ''It is
important for the second generation to master the language.''
In Quincy, where Census figures indicate more than 14 percent of the population
primarily speaks an
Asian language at home, voters favored Question 2 by more than a 2-to-1 ratio,
with a final tally of
20,398 to 8,171.
Yip and others say the vote confirms what Quincy's Asians - especially those of
school age - have
already been doing: learning English in addition to their native languages. Yip,
who favors English
immersion, said that most Asian residents don't resist efforts for their
children to learn English as quickly
as they can.
''On the contrary, people are complaining that their kids don't speak Chinese
anymore,'' Yip said. ''I, like
many people I know, send my kids to Chinese school.''
The proof is in the numbers. In a public school system of 9,100 students, only
about 100 are in bilingual
education programs, said Sylvia Pattavina, director of the district's
Transitional Bilingual Education
program. (Compare that to Brockton, where 1,270 of the district's nearly 17,000
students are in a
bilingual education program.)
Yet Pattavina and other Quincy educators and residents are concerned with how
the change in the
curriculum could affect students who may not be able to learn English in one
year, as the new
immersion system would require. Pattavina said that educators want to ensure
that no child is left
behind, but it is too early to know what the effects will be. (Officials also
have not determined the new
cost, though state data shows that in 2000, the district spent $12,998 on
bilingual education per
''We are going to wait for some interpretation from the [state] Department of
Education as to how to
proceed,'' Pattavina said.
She said that in most cases, foreign language children are able to transition
into the mainstream
curriculum, whether they begin in bilingual education programs - which Quincy
offers in Cantonese and
Vietnamese - or participate in the English as a Second Language program for
students with some
English proficiency. There are about 40 languages found among the students in
the ESL program,
''Usually, in as soon as two to three years, they are ready to transition,''
She said that the one-year limit imposed by the new English immersion law could
be problematic unless
there are adequate safeguards for students who have trouble mastering the
Mayor William J. Phelan, who also chairs the School Committee, said that
flexibility is essential in
providing the best education to students.
''Each individual, each student has to be looked at separately,'' Phelan said.
''When you have a young
elementary student, and you have older high school students ... there are two
separate and distinct
needs there. We don't want to discourage learning English, [but] we don't want
to remove the
recourses for some students who need extra help by way of bilingual education,
Tackey Chan, lifelong Quincy resident and president of Quincy Asian Resources
Inc., said that the
success of Question 2 is due to a consensus that learning English is essential.
''Everybody wants their kids to learn English, and that's the reason why it
passed,'' Chan said. ''On that
point, everyone agrees. The question of how to do is more complicated.''
The question did not point out how a school system's resources could be taxed by
students in regular classes after a year, he said.
''If you have a kid in the classroom who doesn't speak English well, who is the
teacher going to spend
more time with?'' Chan said. ''Or if the teacher doesn't spend that time, you
have one child failing.''
Chan also said he worries that a provision allowing private civil action against
teachers who break new
English immersion rules will ''scare off quality teachers who speak more than
Quincy Asian Resources Inc.'s new executive director, Taiwan-native Kao Li, said
that the measure
could be a good move, but educators and lawmakers need to work in concert.
''All things being equal, my experience is that you learn better in an immersion
setting,'' he said. ''But
what that presupposes is that you have the right supportive structure.''
Kimberly Atkins can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org