By Cara Morlan
While the original philosophy behind bilingual education may have been well intentioned, the current status quo for educating Spanish-speaking students is failure. Traditional bilingual education has not quickly developed English proficiency among Spanish-speaking students as promised, but has kept them locked in a system that will inevitably lead to continued second class citizenry. Linda Chavez, Tom Tancredo and the supporters of English for the Children made an attempt this year at ending this sad state of affairs, but to no avail.
Earlier this month the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against the wording of the Colorado ballot initiative named English for the Children and, essentially, against the Spanish-speaking children of Colorado. Traditional bilingual education has failed our children, and now, so has the Colorado Supreme Court by refusing to allow an alternative method to be presented to the voters. The proposed initiative would have required schools to place language minority students in a Structured Immersion program, unless parents requested a waiver for their children to be placed in traditional bilingual education classrooms. The Structured Immersion approach provides for one year of intensive English instruction, followed by a special two-year class with students of similar needs and abilities taught by a specially trained teacher who provides all instruction in English while taking into account each students English proficiency. This is not a sink-or-swim approach — the one-year introductory period is a goal, not an absolute.
This is not an untried and untested approach. A similar initiative was passed in California in 1998, and in just two years, language minority students scores on state standardized tests have risen approximately 20%.
Structured Immersion does not deny parental choice, but rather enhances it while implementing a system proven to be successful. It does not damage the public school, but provides opportunity for vast improvement in graduation, dropout and college attendance rates. It does not increase costs to taxpayers and will actually save money in the long run. It is not anti-immigrant, but a necessary step toward providing all children, no matter what language they speak, with equal opportunities for achieving the American Dream. Most importantly, Structured Immersion simply makes sense.
If the goal is to teach a child English, it makes sense to teach in English. While true that its easier to learn a second language having mastered a first, language minority students are entering the school system with only the most basic understanding of their native tongue. So, while someone who plays soccer will learn to play American football faster than someone who has never played a sport, that does not make it efficient to teach soccer first if the objective is to learn football.
If the goal is to provide the best education possible, it makes sense to use the best software, teaching aids, books, curriculum and teaching models available, and availability is greatest in English. A student in traditional bilingual education is forced to use only those resources available in Spanish, which are often limited and outdated.
If the goal is to form one unified nation, it makes sense to treat all citizens equally and give each person an equal opportunity for success. Yet, only Spanish-speaking students are being relegated to waste away in a failed system providing instruction only in their primary language. No Russian, French, Polish, Japanese, Korean or Chinese immigrants are forced into these bilingual programs, and consequently, they are vastly outperforming their Spanish-speaking counterparts.
It is time American citizens declared that parental choice and involvement in education is important. It is time we demanded necessary improvements and accountability in the public school system. It is time we united behind the ideal of equal opportunities for all, and stopped relegating certain citizens to second-class educational programs. The American dream of building a better life is what has lured millions of immigrants to this country.It is time we made the necessary changes to ensure that all people have an equal chance of achieving that dream. It is time we demanded Structured Immersion as an option for language minority children. If only the Colorado Supreme Court would have let us have the chance
Researcher Cara Morlan wrote this article for the Independence Institute, an education reform think tank in Golden, https://i2i.org.
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