NOTE: Bilingual learning fails its students
is located after the following editorial.
OUR OPINIONS: A lot to learn about bilingual ed
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff
Friday, November 22, 2002
English will be the second language of 40 percent of the children in America's
classrooms by 2030, and schools will offer a slew of legitimate reasons why they
can't assure the academic success of those children.
But there's one reason why they must --- America doesn't have a choice. Its
future depends on teaching reading and critical thinking skills to every child.
And that represents a new burden for our schools.
Prior generations of immigrants also failed in school and dropped out at even
higher rates. But like their American-born counterparts, they still found jobs.
Today's information-driven economy means far fewer opportunities for the
illiterate and the unskilled. Dropouts drift from one poor-paying job to the
next, falling back on government handouts to survive.
Burdened by language barriers, poverty and second-rate health care, only 53
percent of Hispanic students graduate high school. But those obstacles can be
overcome, as is happening at Clay Elementary. The Mableton school is defying the
odds by meeting state standards in reading and math despite its 38 percent
Hispanic enrollment. Its strategy is to hire more bilingual staff, tutor at-risk
students and reach out to parents.
Nationally, no one has discovered a magic formula to bring non-English speakers
up to par quickly. Some advocate teaching in both the native language as well as
English, until the child is proficient enough to be taught in English only.
Others argue that students should be taught in English only from the beginning.
The debate between the two approaches has become politicized, even though the
evidence suggests that neither method is a panacea.
Some research indicates that English immersion benefits children with family
backgrounds of literacy. For children whose parents can't read in their native
tongue and for whom school is a new experience, bilingual approaches can be more
At any rate, such policy determinations ought to be made at the schoolhouse, not
the Statehouse. Unfortunately, the trend is otherwise, as demonstrated in
In a landslide, Massachusetts voters dumped bilingual education in favor of
all-English classes. The rejection was striking because 30 years ago
Massachusetts was the first state to introduce bilingual classes.
Proponents of the English-only classes in Massachusetts cited California, which
abandoned bilingual education four years ago. California hired researchers to
evaluate the effects of the change, and their findings are mixed so far. The
research does indicate that non-native students require several years to achieve
the level of English fluency needed to do well academically, the same time span
it took with traditional bilingual education.
As Georgia's Hispanic population grows, Georgia has to examine what is working
at schools such as Clay Elementary as well as watch the experience of states
such as California. Actual in-the-classroom results, not ideology, must guide
EQUAL TIME: For another perspective on this issue, see the next page (below)
Bilingual learning fails its students
K.C. McAlpin - For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Friday, November 22, 2002
Bilingual education doesn't work. And it is not hard to understand why.
Bilingual education means teaching non-English-speaking schoolchildren core
subjects --- math, history, social studies --- in their native language, while
they spend only a few hours a day learning English.
Young or old, it's usually not easy to learn a new language. That's why the most
successful technique for learning any language is some variant of what's called
the immersion technique.
Immersion means teaching children their core subjects in English while they also
receive intensive English instruction on the side. It's the method by which
generations of immigrant schoolchildren learned English, and the technique used
in U.S. schools until fairly recently. But in the past 30 years, bilingual
education has replaced immersion as the method of instruction in many areas of
Despite the expenditure of tens of billions of dollars at the federal, state and
local levels to make it work, bilingual education's results have been
catastrophic. The failure was summed up in the opening sentence of a Colorado
newspaper article this summer that analyzed the test results of bilingual
education students compared with their peers in immersion-style classes: "In
every grade, in every subject, students in bilingual education programs lagged
behind their classmates learning English on recent state tests."
Bilingual education's failure to teach immigrant children English was so blatant
that the parents of many of these students started to rebel. It was a school
boycott led by Hispanic immigrant parents in Southern California who were
outraged that their children were not learning English in school that first
caught the attention and sympathy of businessman-entrepreneur Ron Unz.
Since then Unz has helped organize and fund ballot initiatives to do away with
bilingual education and replace it with English immersion techniques in four
states: California, Arizona, Colorado and Massachusetts.
These initiatives have been fiercely resisted by the bilingual education
Nevertheless, three of the states passed the initiatives by landslide
proportions of 61 percent to 68 percent. The only state in which an initiative
failed was Colorado.
Georgia, like many other states, is experiencing a huge increase in its
immigrant population that is bringing with it huge new burdens for its schools.
It cannot afford to fail these immigrant children by not teaching them English
K.C. McAlpin is executive director of ProEnglish in Arlington, Va.