Original URL: http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/311/metro/Officials_weigh_changes_to_English_immersion+.shtml

Officials weigh changes to English immersion

By Michele Kurtz, Boton Globe Staff, 11/7/2002

day after voters overwhelmingly decided to end bilingual education in public schools and
replace it with English immersion, some key state officials began tinkering with the law.

Governer-elect Mitt Romney, who
supported the initiative, said he will work to drop the provision allowing parents to sue teachers who
teach in a language other than English.

State Senator Robert A. Antonioni, cochairman of the Legislature's Education Committee and an
opponent of the ballot initiative, said he will examine the possibility of making it easier for students to
obtain waivers of the English immersion requirement.

State Representative Peter J. Larkin, the other education panel cochairman, acknowledged that
adjusting a measure that appealed to voters but was disliked among lawmakers could produce a
political nightmare. ''The Legislature's in a no-win situation,'' said Larkin, a Pittsfield Democrat. ''The
Legislature has answered an initiative petition before and is always lambasted by the press to correct
something that is wrong.''

Supporters of English immersion warned officials yesterday against making changes.

''It seems to me a little bit doubtful to say people can vote however they want, but the Legislature can
and will undo all that,'' said Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz, who pushed the Bay State initiative.

Under the initiative, approved by 68 percent of Massachusetts voters, schools next fall would replace
bilingual education - where students have learned primarily in their native tongue while easing into
English - with one year of English immersion followed by mainstream classes. Backers of Question
2 said students languish too long in bilingual education programs, while opponents said the ballot
initiative doesn't provide enough support for students trying to learn English.

But monitoring how the state implements Question 2 could be tricky for those who spearheaded it.
That's partly because Lincoln Tamayo, chairman of Unz's local campaign, is moving to Tampa next
week to open a private middle school for economically disadvantaged urban youths.

Unz said he'll replace Tamayo with another supporter to see how the state implements the law,
similar to initiatives he successfully pushed in Arizona and California. Tamayo said he plans to follow
up as well. He is already unhappy that Romney, a Republican, wants to eliminate the ability for
parents to sue teachers.

''We are not at all comfortable with the notion of the Department of Education monitoring this law,''
Tamayo said. ''We are far more comfortable with the ability of parents at the local level and the school
level making sure that school administrators are doing what they are supposed to do.''

Antonioni, a Leominster Democrat, stressed that any changes would not gut the law's intent to
immerse students in English. ''I think we'd be making any changes not with a hammer and a chisel
but more with a scalpel and fine tools,'' Antonioni said.

Lawmakers tried to head off the ballot question by approving another law reforming bilingual
education coauthored by Antonioni and Larkin. Yesterday, Larkin said he wants to still see school
districts abide by some pieces of that legislation, including holding schools accountable based on
new annual assessments of students with limited English.

While lawmakers considered changes to Question 2, school administrators explored how to
implement the new law, which takes effect in September 2003.

''We're getting hundreds of phone calls today from districts. The reality has hit,'' said state Education
Commissioner David P. Driscoll, who plans to propose guidelines this month to the State Board of
Education.

Some school officials yesterday bemoaned the dollars it will take to switch to English immersion,
even though supporters said funds simply can be redirected from bilingual programs.

At a news conference, Boston Superintendent of Schools Thomas W. Payzant said the district will
have to spend $31 million over two years, mainly for teacher training and textbooks. ''The big issue is
going to be the budget and where the cuts are going to come,'' said Payzant, who opposed Question
2.

Rick Klein, Megan Tench, and Anand Vaishnav of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page B9 of the Boston Globe on 11/7/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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