Original URL: http://www.gazettenet.com/10302002/opinion/1331.htm

No on Question 2
Daily Hampshire Gazette. Oct. 30, 2002

Wednesday, October 30, 2002 -- Question 2 on the November ballot asks voters to decide between two competing ways of teaching Massachusetts school children whose native language is not English.

Supporters of the question think the immersion method, in which students speak only English in the classroom, is better and faster at making students proficient in English. Opponents think a bilingual approach takes individual differences into account and, by easing students into their new language, makes it easier for them to learn.

We think students should learn English as quickly as possible, but the method proposed by Question 2 is extreme and its effectiveness is disputed.

Massachusetts has had a bilingual law for over 30 years. A revamped law was passed by the Legislature and signed by acting Gov. Jane Swift in August. The new law lets school districts choose the methods - including immersion - they consider best suited to their students' needs. If passed, Question 2 would replace this version of the bilingual law before its effectiveness has been fully gauged.

The new law was a response to MCAS results that showed bilingual students falling behind in English as well as subjects taught in their native language. Some took this as evidence that the state was failing in its duty to provide students with the best education possible. The changes also raised standards for bilingual education teachers, promoted parental participation and made schools accountable for their performance.

The Legislature bears some responsibility for the issue making it to the ballot. If the Legislature had acted in a timely way to change the original law, proponents of the immersion method might not have resorted to trying to force change through balloting.

Because school districts can now choose the teaching method they believe does the best job, Question 2 is redundant and exclusionary. It asks voters to end the schools' choice and declare that only one method will be used. We feel parents who favor a particular method and want a change would do better to take their concerns to their local schools.

One aspect of the ballot proposal is especially troubling. It calls for punishing teachers and administrators who "willfully and repeatedly" disobey the English-only law. They could be sued, fired or banned from teaching for five years if parents felt their child's ability to learn English was hurt by using the child's native language. The intent of this part of the initiative is to make sure teachers toe the line and don't circumvent the law. We feel threatening school officials with loss of their livelihood goes too far and is coercive.

We believe mandating teaching methods by popular vote is wrong. In our opinion a "no" vote on Question 2 is in the best interest of the children.



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