Information on the Unz initiative – Massachusetts

Information on the “Unz” initiative – MassachusettsAn edited version of this article was originally an editorial published in The Common Purpose, the Holyoke Teachers’ Association (Massachusetts) Newsletter – January 2002 Issue

Neil be reached at neilesl@aol.com

Could You Lose Your Job for Five Years ? by Neil Brick

If the “Unz” initiative is put on the ballot, An Act relative to the teaching of English in Public Schools is put on the ballot and passes in November, 2002, this is possible. In AG Petition #01-11, (http://www.ago.state.ma.us/gov01-12.pdf), Section 2. Definitions (e)”Sheltered English immersion” means an English language acquisition process for young children in which nearly all classroom instruction is in English but with the curriculum and presentation designed for children who are learning the language. Books and instructional materials are in English and all reading, writing, and subject matter are taught in English. Although teachers may use a minimal amount of the child’s native language when necessary, no subject matter shall be taught in any language other than English, and children in this program learn to read and write solely in English. This educational methodology represents the standard definition of “sheltered English” or “structured English” found in educational literature.” This means that no subject matter whatsoever shall be taught in a child’s first language. Only safety directions could be in a child’s first language.

Furthermore, the penalties for not following these guidelines are extremely harsh. In Section 6. Legal standing and parental enforcement, it is stated, “(b) Any school district employee, school committee member or other elected official or administrator who willfully and repeatedly refuses to implement the terms of this chapter may be held personally liable for reasonable attorney’s fees, costs and compensatory damages by the child’s parents or legal guardian, and shall not be subsequently indemnified for such monetary judgment by any public or private third party. Any individual found so liable shall be barred from election or reelection to any school committee and from employment in any public school district for a period of five years following the entry of final judgment.” “Willfully and repeatedly” could be interpreted as using a child’s first language several times to clarify curriculum concepts the child was unable to understand in English.

Even worse, in the same section, “(c) Parents and legal guardians who apply for and are granted exception waivers under Section 5(b)(3) of this chapter (Children with special individual needs) retain full and permanent legal right to sue the individuals who granted such waivers if they subsequently discover before the child reaches the age of eighteen that the application for waivers was induced by fraud or intentional misrepresentation and injured the education of their child.” In other words, a teacher or a school system could be sued until the child reaches 18.

Proponents of this initiative mention that there are waivers available to place children into bilingual education programs. But these waivers would not cover the majority of children in bilingual programs. In section 5 (b). Parental Waivers, it is stated, “(b). The circumstances in which a parental exception waiver may be applied for under this section are as follows: (1).Children who already know English: the child already possesses good English language skills, as measured by oral evaluation or standardized tests of English vocabulary comprehension, reading, and writing, in which the child scores approximately at or above the state average for his grade level… (2).Older children: the child is age 10 years or older, and it is the informed belief of the school principal and educational staff that an alternate course of educational study would be better suited to the child’s overall educational progress and rapid acquisition of basic English language skills; or (3). Children with special individual needs: the child already has been placed for a period of not less than thirty calendar days during that particular school year in an English language classroom and it is subsequently the informed belief of the school principal and educational staff that the child has such special and individual physical or psychological needs, above and beyond the child’s lack of English proficiency, that an alternate course of educational study would be better suited to the child’s overall educational development and rapid acquisition of English…. Waivers granted under this section cannot be applied for until after thirty calendar days of a given school year have passed, and this waiver process must be renewed each and every school year…The existence of such special individual needs shall not compel issuance of a waiver, and the parents shall be fully informed of their right to refuse to agree to a waiver.” This means there are only three exceptions where children can be placed in bilingual programs, and in the case of “Children with special individual needs” these children would need to placed in English immersion classrooms the first thirty days of every year, regardless of their needs.

Pedagogically speaking, bilingual programs have been shown to be superior to immersion programs. It makes sense that a teacher would want to teach a child in a language they understand, their first language, until they have fully mastered their second language. Research that backs this claim up include : The Ramirez dataset (Ramirez, Yuen and Ramey, 1991) states, “Spanish speaking students can be provided with substantial amounts of primary language instruction without impeding their acquisition of English language and reading skills….The data suggest that by Grade 6, students provided with English-only instruction may actually fall further behind their English speaking peers. Data also document that learning a second language will take six or more years’.” (Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 2nd Ed., Colin Baker, Multilingual Matters Ltd., c 1996 p.213-215)

In a Thomas and Collier study, with findings from five large urban and suburban school districts with more than 700,000 language minority student records from 1982-1996, only quality, long-term, enrichment bilingual programs using current approaches to teaching, such as one-way and two-way developmental bilingual education, when implemented to their full potential, will give language minority students the grade-level cognitive and academic development needed to be academically successful in English, and to sustain their success as they reach their high school years.”(“School Effectiveness for Language Minority Students” – Thomas and Collier, George Mason University – National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, The George Washington University Center for the Study of Language and Education, Washington, D.C.

http://www.ncbe.gwu.edu/ncbepubs/resource/effectiveness/index.htm)

More recent research also back up these claims. “Stanford 9 English Scores Show – A Consistent Edge For Bilingual Education – by James Crawford – April 15, 2000 – “In 1998-1999, for the third year in a row, students learning English in bilingual education programs scored significantly higher in [English] reading and language than students enrolled in English Only programs, according to the Arizona Department of Education (ADE). The comparison of Stanford 9 achievement test results is found in the ADE’s latest report on the education of English learners in Arizona.” (http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/JWCRAWFORD/AZscores.htm)

Californians Together: A Roundtable for Quality Education – Bilingual Schools Make Exceptional Gains on the State’s Academic Performance Index (API) Children in Bilingual Education Classes Performed Better in Tests of Academic Achievement Than Students Receiving Most of Their Instruction in English “This study shows that both groups of schools made progress on California’s API from 1999 to 2000. Bilingual schools exceeded their growth targets for Hispanic students by almost five times, while the comparison schools exceeded their targets by only four times. California parents making such important educational decisions for their children should know that students in bilingual education are performing better and are learning English,” said Dr. Norm Gold, who conducted the study at the request of Californians Together. (http://www.californiatomorrow.org/files/pdfs/API_REPORT_PRESS_RELEASE_12-5.PDF )

“Bilingual Education, the Acquisition of English, and the Retention and Loss of Spanish” by Stephen Krashen “What the research shows – A number of studies have shown that bilingual education is effective, with children in well-designed programs acquiring academic English as well and often better than children in all-English programs (Willig, 1985; Cummins, 1989; Krashen, 1996; Greene, 1997)” “Cases like these provide strong support for the principles underlying bilingual education and are confirmed by numerous empirical studies showing that those who have a better education in their primary language excel in English language development (research reviewed in Krashen, 1996).” “Literacy developed in the primary language transfers to the second language.” (http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/JWCRAWFORD/Krashen7.htm)

Do students “languish” in bilingual education programs? According to Antonio F. D. Cabral, a Democratic state representative, the overwhelming majority of bilingual education students (80 percent) are mainstreamed (into full English classes) in three years or less. Those that aren’t may be in special education or may have little or no education before coming to the United States. He also claims that in the past that this sink or swim approach caused a drop out rate of 80 to 90 percent for ELL’s (English Language Learners), and that this is why transitional bilingual education was originally developed. (Set Higher Standards, SouthCoast Today http://www.s-t.com/daily/05-01/05-16-01/a12op067.htm originally printed in Commonwealth magazine).

Does one year of immersion work ? For most children, it doesn’t. “Prof. David Ramirez of California State University at Long Beach reported that children in immersion were nowhere near ready for the mainstream after one year,” even with 70 percent having some English before they started in school. After first grade (two years of immersion), only 21 percent reached the redesignation (mainstreaming) standard, and after grade 2, 38 percent. Krashen notes that the California Department of Education reports two academic years after 227 (the “immersion” bill) passed, 877,031 (this number is higher now) students in grades two through 11 have been in school for more than one year and are still classified as limited English proficient. (“Are children ready for the mainstream after one year of “structured English immersion?”” Stephen Krashen – TESOL Newsletter (in press)

Efforts are being made in the legislature to improve bilingual education. The research clearly shows that children in good bilingual programs have an advantage over those in immersion programs. Proponents of the immersion initiative have heavy financial backing, so teachers and parents will need to work very hard to get the word out about how bad this initiative is so we will be protected legally and allowed to decide what we feel is best for our children and not have it mandated by others, millionaires in other states and those that haven’t taught in classrooms. There are several groups currently doing this. For further information on this, please feel free to bilingualedmass@yahoogroups.com.

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