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A yes vote will benefit kids

By Lincoln J. Tamayo, Boston Globe10/28/2002

Y PARENTS and I emigrated here from Cuba. Though we are proud of our
heritage and our first language, we have always understood that success in
this country is inextricably tied to a command of English. The faster that command
is achieved, the better.

As a high school principal in Chelsea (where almost 70 percent of the students
speak a language other than English at home) I witnessed the disastrous
consequences of a failed policy of transitional bilingual education that has ill-served
generations of immigrant students in Massachusetts.

This is why I left Chelsea in order to lead the ballot question campaign to change
our bilingual education laws.

The bilingual education law passed in August by the Legislature will ensure that
almost nothing changes or improves the education of Spanish-speaking children,
who are most likely to be enrolled in bilingual education programs. Too many of
these students will remain trapped in Spanish-language classrooms for years while
learning English very slowly, if at all.

Because of transitional bilingual education, too many Spanish-speaking students are
segregated from their English-speaking schoolmates, and this has contributed
significantly to the abysmal educational results for Hispanic students in
Massachusetts: the lowest MCAS scores and the highest drop-out rates among all
major racial/ethnic groups.

It is time to bring sense into the education of our immigrant and
non-English-speaking children. The faster and the more intensely we teach them
English, under the guidance of trained and caring teachers, the sooner these
students will be able to benefit from the educational opportunities that lead to
skilled jobs, higher education and full participation in our society.

We acquire the ability to communicate by instinct. Thus the learning of a second
language is accomplished most easily and effectively in our early years, when the
instinct to communicate is most readily manifested. When I entered kindergarten in
Florida I could not speak English, but with just two months of good
English-language education I began to communicate well. Tens of thousands of
young Cuban immigrants like me learned English in American classrooms in similar
fashion. It is absurd to think that Spanish-speaking children entering kindergarten or
first grade in Massachusetts need to wait three or four years to participate in
regular classes with their native English-speaking classmates, as claimed by bilingual
education ''experts.''

Indeed, these ''experts'' would prefer we ignore the fact that in California, where a
similar ballot question passed in 1998, statewide test scores indicate that students
immersed in English are three times more likely to be successful on
English-language tests than those still attending holdout bilingual education
programs, where subjects are taught in the native language.

Three outrageous misrepresentations commonly made by our opponents must be

Opponents of the ballot question say it prohibits a child's native language from
being used at all in English immersion classrooms, and that teachers will be sued if
they speak a word of any other language in the classroom. That is pure

Nothing in Question 2 prohibits a child's native language from being used in a
classroom to clarify a new lesson or to place a lesson in appropriate context when
necessary. Question 2 also allows waivers for native-language academic instruction
for older students who might have serious difficulty in quickly acquiring strong
English skills.

Question 2 does allow for suits against teachers and administrators who willfully
and repeatedly violate the law by providing (in the absence of waivers) all or
almost all instruction and teaching materials in their students' native languages.

The new bilingual education ''reform'' bill that legislators say will give school
districts local choice of educational programs is in reality a shallow cover for
protecting the supremacy of the same old native-language classes defended by the
bilingual education bureaucracy. Are we to believe that the large urban school
districts in Massachusetts, dominated by this bureaucracy, will voluntarily choose
the most promising and effective programs that focus on the early teaching of

Question 2 is not anti-immigrant or racist. As an immigrant, I know firsthand that
there is nothing more pro-immigrant than to provide a child with the very foundation
of success here - a command of English as quickly as possible.

Politicians have had years to make reforms in our bilingual education laws, but they
have repeatedly failed to do so. It is time for voters to do the right thing by voting
yes on Question 2.

Lincoln J. Tamayois chairman of English for the Children of Massachusetts.

This story ran on page A15 of the Boston Globe on 10/28/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.