Original URL: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/news_columnists/article/0,1299,DRMN_86_1532025,00.html

Rosen: Amendment 31: Round 2

Rocky Mountain News November 8, 2002

by Mike Rosen

It was a tight race: 56 percent to 44 percent. But Amendment 31, the English immersion initiative, came up just a
little short. Outspent 15-to-1 (thanks to a $3 million gift from a wealthy heiress whose hobby is bankrolling liberal
causes) and up against the full force of the educratic machine, that the vote was this close is testimony to the grass-roots support for English immersion among ordinary citizens.

For the time being, the defeat of Amendment 31 means that non-English-speaking Hispanic children will continue to waste precious years in a segregated language environment. Ironically, other non-English speaking kids don't have this problem. Since we have no bilingual programs in Russian, young Ivan automatically gets the benefits of English immersion.

It's beyond obvious that the fastest way for young children to become fluent in another language is to be totally immersed in it, and the younger the better. That Spanish-speaking children can be trapped in bilingual classes for five years and more, is a stinging indictment of this failed approach. Diehard defenders of moribund bilingual education programs have their own agenda, steeped in ethnic politics, multiculturalist ideology, and good old-fashioned labor-union job protection.

Amendment 31 was never about suing teachers or creating chaos in the schools. Those were just inflammatory tactics employed by opponents in their deluge of smarmy broadcast ads to scare soccer moms.

This debate has always been about bilingual and bicultural education.

The organized opposition to Amendment 31 came from those interests who want to preserve the status quo.

Let me make my objective clear. I want to drive a stake through the heart of bilingual education. It's costly, it's divisive, it's unnecessary and it's a failure. The first duty of public schools to non-English speaking students (and to the general public) should be to teach those students English. Once that's accomplished, there'll be no need for bilingual education.

Even if some should drop out before graduation, at least they'll have learned the language and be better able to assimilate in our society. Our policy should be that all instruction in academic subjects - history, math, social studies, etc. - in Colorado public schools should be in the English language (except, obviously, in foreign language courses for students who can already speak English).

But what do you do with a 14-year-old eighth-grader, recently arrived from Mexico, who can't speak English? I'd take him out of the eighth grade for a one-year immersion course, at the end of which he'll be fluent in English. Then I'd put him right back in the eighth grade to finish school. So it'll take one year longer. That's all right. As a taxpayer I'm willing to cover the extra cost. It's a good investment.

The educrats have defeated Amendment 31. They said we shouldn't write education policy in the state Constitution.

OK, so let's take it to the state legislature. They said they support English immersion in principle and want parents to have a choice. But the choice they offer is English as a Second Language. It's not working.

Amendment 31 would have replaced it with Sheltered English Immersion, a superior program that doesn't dump kids not yet proficient in English into academic classrooms where they can't understand what's going on. And that contributes to the disgracefully high Hispanic dropout rate.

I'd prefer to see local school districts reform themselves. But that hasn't happened.

Before Amendment 31 woke the educrats from their stupor, it had been business as usual - and a failing business, at that - for more than a generation. Since state revenues cover more than half the cost of K-12 education in Colorado, it's wholly appropriate for the legislature to intervene and break the logjam with a new law, starting with the elimination of bilingual education.

We can emulate California's model and their success in transitioning to English immersion. I wonder if any "progressive"
school districts will have the vision and initiative to lead the way.

Mike Rosen's radio show airs daily from 9 a.m. to noon on 850 KOA.


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