Bilingual education ballot question panned at Brockton rally
By Sean Flynn, Enterprise staff writer
BROCKTON More than 150 people rallied Wednesday night on City Hall
Plaza, calling for the defeat of ballot
Question 2, which would ban the state's new language-education law and put all
non-English speaking students in
"sheltered immersion classes" for one school year.
"If you think you can learn a second language in 180 days, why don't you speak a
second language?" read a sign
held by Soria Monteiro.
Voters will decide the issue at the polls on Tuesday.
Monteiro, now a student in regular classes at Brockton High School, came to the
United States from Cape Verde in
1999 and spent two years in the city's bilingual program.
"If not for the support of bilingual education teachers, I would not be in
mainstream classes today," she said to cheers
from the crowd.
In August, the governor signed a new law that gives schools a wide choice of
language programs for students. The
options include immersion classes, two-way language programs,
English-as-a-second-language or more traditional
"We must give the law a chance to work," Catherine Boudreau, president of the
Massachusetts Teachers Association,
said at the rally.
School districts need to be able to choose which language program works best for
their students, said Mayor John T.
"This is forcing a program, that has not been proven to work, down our throats,"
Students, teachers and community leaders took turns coming to the loudspeaker to
oppose the initiative. It's on the
ballot because of the financing and efforts of Ron Unz, a multimillionaire and
former Republican candidate for
governor in California.
"We don't need outsiders coming here and telling us how to fix our education
system," said Moises Rodrigues, past
president and board member of the Cape Verdean Association.
"I'm a product of bilingual education," he said. "I learned English as a fifth
The question has become a divisive issue in the governor's race, with Republican
Mitt Romney backing it and
Democrat Shannon O'Brien opposing it.
"The question is a waste of time, energy and effort," said state Rep. Thomas
Unz was successful in getting the initiative passed in California in 1998, but
speakers in Brockton said the program has
State Rep. Tony Cabral, D-New Bedford, said only 8 to 9 percent of non-native
English learners transition to
mainstream classes each year in California, while 25 percent of bilingual
students in Massachusetts make the
transition each year. "We don't need an immersion from Mr. Unz," said Cabral.
"The initiative is a proven failure in California," said Robert Vitello, past
president of the Massachusetts Association of
Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages.
Soraya de Barros Andrade came here from Cape Verde in 1991, and is now a
bilingual education teacher at the
Belmont Street Elementary School.
"The future of more than 44,000 bilingual students in Massachusetts is being
threatened," said de Barros Andrade.
Speakers cited the high dropout rates of Hispanic students in Massachusetts
before the current bilingual education
program was established in the early 1970s.
"Lest we forget history, bilingual education was an affirmative response to the
failed English-only programs for
language minority students of the 1950s through the 1970s when children were
repeatedly belittled, humiliated and
even punished for speaking their primary language in school," de Barros Andrade
Prejudice underlies the ballot question, some speakers said.
Proponents "continually recite the anti-immigrant and anti-teacher rhetoric that
has been floating around for years,"
said Kellie Jones, an English-as-second-language teacher in Brockton. "However,
these arguments are just lies."
Unz and Mitt Romney, in support of the ballot question, have argued that past
immigrants came here and learned
English without native-language support in the schools.
But Jones cited a 1931 federal immigration report that stated only 11 percent of
Italian-speaking students in New York
City graduated from high school.
"Clearly, there was no golden age of immigration and assimilation," she said.
Jones said bilingual programs were dismantled after the outbreak of World War I
and there was a marked increase in
the dropout rate for foreign-language speakers.
The program was re-established in this state in 1974, she said, to allow
students to keep pace with peers in the same
grade while they learn English.
"It is Question 2 that will ghetto-ize second-language learners," she said.
Supporters of the question say students linger for years in bilingual programs,
but Jones said students stay in bilingual
programs an average of 2.7 years in Brockton, and an average of 2.6 years in
Voters may not have received accurate information about ballot Question 2, a
government expert and state lawmaker
The state Secretary of State sent out voter information packets that failed to
contain information about the new
language-education law, said Charles Glick of Charles Group Consulting in
"As a result, millions of Massachusetts voters have intentionally been kept in
the dark about the recent comprehensive
reform," the public-affairs consultant wrote in an Oct. 18 letter to state Rep.
Peter J. Larkin, House chairman of the
Committee on Education, Arts and Humanities.
Larkin sent Glick's letter to news outlets.
" The truth is that Question 2 would replace the comprehensive new reform that
has already taken the place of the old
transitional bilingual-education law," Larkin wrote in a letter to the editor.