Reinstating of '2-way' bilingual ed is hailed
Popular elective has a waiting list
Boston Globe Staff, 7/20/2003
By Jonathan Saltzman,
As the governor assailed the Massachusetts Legislature last week for reinstating a so-called two-way bilingual education program that would have been axed under a new voter-approved English immersion law, the superintendent of Framingham public schools and two School Committee members applauded the move.
''I'm pleased,'' said Superintendent Mark C. Smith, whose district has offered the program for about a decade. ''I think the legislators made a wise decision.''
Philip A. Dinsky, chairman of the School Committee, and David Miles, the vice chairman, said many people simply do not understand the two-way program, which has proven popular with immigrant families as well as with those whose first language is English.
''I've been listening to the talk shows,'' Dinsky said Tuesday, shortly after Romney denounced Beacon Hill lawmakers at a news conference. ''I think if people understood what the program was, they would have a whole different concept about this going against the [voter] initiative.''
Framingham is one of about a dozen school systems in the state to offer the two-way curriculum, in which students take courses from science to geography in both English and another language, usually Spanish. The program, which is also in place in Boston, Cambridge, and Lawrence, helps students learn another language while studying the other subjects.
About 400 students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade participate in Framingham's English-Spanish program. As a result, Smith said, many are fluent in both languages by fifth grade. Moreover, participants whose native language is Spanish score at least as well on MCAS reading tests in the third grade as children statewide whose native language is English.
The Framingham program, one of five bilingual offerings by the district, is so popular that it often has a waiting list. It is first come, first served, Miles said, until an equal number of slots for English- and Spanish-speaking students are filled, and preference is given to siblings. He would not hazard a guess about the future of the other programs.
The district toyed a few years ago with introducing a two-way curriculum of English and Portuguese, because of Framingham's large number of Brazilian immigrants.
Nonetheless, two-way programs were to be eliminated in September under a statewide ballot initiative that passed by more than 2-1 in November. The measure ended three decades of bilingual education by placing immigrant students in one-year, all-English classes before moving them into mainstream courses.
The initiative was championed by Romney in his gubernatorial campaign and bankrolled partly by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz, who was successful in ending bilingual education in California and Arizona. Critics of bilingual education say immigrant children languish in such programs and perform better when immersed in English.
But a divided Legislature on Monday narrowly overrode Romney's vetoes of five bilingual education measures attached to the 2004 budget, including the two-way program. The next day, Romney said legislators had defied the will of voters.
''English immersion passed by an overwhelming majority,'' he said at a news conference. ''For them to create loopholes . . . to abuse that direction is wrong, and it's arrogant.''
But Romney's opposition to the two-way program, which is an elective, is at odds with his support of other programs that let parents choose how they educate their children, such as charter schools, Smith said.
And even with the exemption, Smith noted, the two-way programs serve only a tiny fraction of the state's 51,000 limited-English speakers.
''For the governor to get too exercised over preserving 12 two-way programs out of the entire effort throughout the state seems, to me, to be an overreaction to the Legislature's decision,'' he said.
Despite the vetoes, the voter-approved immersion law remains intact for the majority of limited-English students who are in bilingual programs and for non-English speakers, in districts without bilingual programs, who still get help learning English.
State Representative Deborah Blumer, a Framingham Democrat, also praised the two-way curriculum. She has a granddaughter who just completed fourth grade at Paul F. Barbieri Jr. Elementary School and has been in the program since kindergarten.
The girl, Blumer said, recently taught her grandmother how to say parts of the body in Spanish and was able to use the language to describe the history and geography of Texas.
Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at email@example.com