Floundering in English
The Boston Globe, Editorial
THE CHALLENGE for the state Board of Education as it weighs regulations for the
state's new English immersion law is to come up with guidelines that avoid the
experience of 30 years ago. It was sink or swim then, and too many children
sank. Moreover, even the most sensible regulations will be of little avail if
the state does not supply more funding for materials and better training of both
immersion teachers and mainstream teachers in schools with large numbers of
children with limited English. Governor Romney's proposed $9 million for
immersion kindergarten classes is just a start.
Voter-approved Question 2 deprives state and local officials of flexibility, one
reason this page opposed it. Children under 10 can be waived from immersion and
enroll in a transitional bilingual class with much instruction in the child's
language only if the student first spends 30 days in immersion. There must also
be physical or psychological reasons unrelated to language for opting out of
These same hurdles will be imposed if children want to enroll in one of the
state's heretofore successful two-way bilingual classes, in which mainstream and
language-minority students learn each other's tongue. The law is less strict
about waivers for children over age 10, recognizing that they can have special
difficulty mastering English.
With good teachers and good materials, immersion will probably succeed for many
students, especially ones who begin in the earliest grades. But one of the
reasons many voters were skeptical about the old form of bilingual education is
that too many of the teachers lacked English ''fluency,'' the new standard
required by Question 2. Unless there is a corps of good immersion teachers
waiting in the wings, the state and districts will have to work hard to bring
less-than-fluent bilingual teachers to that level by September.
The state must also invest in the professional development of mainstream
teachers. If immersion works as envisioned, most students will need just one
year of immersion and then go into mainstream classes. But it is a dirty secret
of public education, here and elsewhere, that too many mainstream teachers have
no training or sensitivity in working with students whose English is good enough
to navigate at recess but weak in the classroom.
During his campaign, Romney wisely promised to eliminate an ill-advised
provision of Question 2 that would give parents the right to sue teachers if
parents felt they were not complying with the law. Now the governor is walking
away from that promise, possibly because he worries that proposing any
legislative changes to the law would invite legislators to make their own
changes, such as preserving two-way bilingual. The governor and lawmakers should
respect the will of the voters, but there are changes that would improve the law
and reduce the chance of immersion chaos.
This story ran on page A18 of the Boston Globe on 2/28/2003. © Copyright
2003 Globe Newspaper Company.