The Future of Bilingual Education
As an ESL teacher in Holyoke, I was very concerned when I heard there would a ballot question that would eliminate bilingual education for many children. Unfortunately ballot question two (one year English immersion programs) passed in Massachusetts. Question 2 will eliminate bilingual education in many schools across the state.
Almost all of the Hispanics and most of the Anglos I work with were strongly against Question 2. Those serviced by bilingual education voted strongly against Question 2. According to an exit poll survey of 1,200 Latinos, 92% of Hispanics voted against Question 2. In Chinatown in Boston, which is 57% Asian, 67% voted no on Question 2. A nationwide People En Espanol survey of 6,000 Hispanics found that 95 percent of Hispanic respondents back bilingual education. Many of those that wish to have their children in bilingual education programs may not be able to.
I was extremely upset that many teachers would lose the right to teach the way they felt best, to teach the child in their first language until they have mastered English sufficiently to learn in it. Many non-educators mistakenly believe that English immersion works better than bilingual education. In California, since Proposition 227 (their version of our Question 2) passed in 1998, limited English proficient children are falling behind native English speakers on test scores (SAT-9) through grades 2 to 11. Many students are in immersion programs in California for three and four years. Here, many successful bilingual education programs may now be destroyed due to the passing of Question 2.
Many teachers know that it is impossible to learn academic English in one year. We also know that an education program needs to build on a child’s strengths, in this case, their first language. As an immigrant child learns English, they are taught other curriculum topics, such as math and science, in a language they understand, their own language. In Mass, students are in transitional bilingual programs an average of 2.3 years. Without this very necessary bridge program, children forced into English immersion classes will fall behind and many may not succeed in school.
Teachers under Question 2 can be sued without insurance protection and lose their jobs for five years if found guilty of “willfully and repeatedly” refusing to follow Question 2. Teachers that teach a student subject matter in a language other than English, to help the child understand what is going on, could be considered violating this law. During the election, Mitt Romney promised to work with the legislature to remove the enforcement clause that permits lawsuits. Now that he has been elected, he claims this is not necessary, that he will use regulations to discourage these lawsuits.
The legislature will be working on a variety of ways to fix Question 2, so it will not be so disastrous on immigrant children. Please write your state senator and representative and ask them to cosponsor many of the different alternatives in front of the legislature today that will help protect parent rights and effective educational methodologies.