A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
No on Question 2 English immersion
ON ELECTION DAY, voters will decide an important education issue: Should school
districts put virtually all their students from foreign-language families into
one-year English immersion classes or into the classes the districts think best
for individual students?
The same dissatisfaction with the status quo in bilingual education that
prompted this ballot question also spurred the Legislature last summer to
overhaul the system. Local districts should have a chance to make the new law
work before a ''one size fits all'' model is imposed on them. The Globe
recommends a No vote on Question 2.
The choice is not whether to teach students English or not. All schools have
that goal. Until recently, many schools tried to achieve it by combining English
instruction with subject classes in the students' first language. The idea was
to keep them from falling too far behind in math or science while their English
improved enough to master those subjects.
This approach has had mixed results, in part because districts have often lacked
truly qualified bilingual teachers, fluent in both languages and strong in the
subject courses. The law enacted in August requires higher standards of teachers
and strict accountability of students' progress in English. Districts can offer
immersion or bilingual instruction or continue with the highly popular and
successful two-way bilingual programs, in which English speakers and Spanish or
Chinese speakers learn together, helping each other master the other's language.
Two-way bilingual would be banned if Question 2 passes.
The ballot question sponsor, California millionaire Ron Unz, often refers to the
success immigrants had years ago learning English through immersion. Most, in
fact, did learn enough to do factory work. But could they have passed the MCAS
test? To bring newcomers to that level, schools should be allowed to tailor
methods to their students.
With high-quality teachers, Unz's ''sheltered'' immersion model can work,
especially with younger children. Heavily Hispanic Lawrence has been offering it
to families, but teachers there are allowed to help children with an amount of
Spanish that would be illegal under the ballot question.
That is the problem with the ballot question's rigid approach to education
reform - it even includes a punitive clause under which teachers could be sued
for using too much foreign language. Strict adherence to the question could
throw immigrants' education back to conditions 30 years ago, when dropout rates
of Hispanics, in particular, were much higher than they have been since
bilingual education was introduced. By voting no, voters will let
superintendents, principals, and teachers pick the models - immersion,
bilingual, two-way bilingual - that work best with their students and their
This story ran on page A14 of the Boston Globe on 10/28/2002.© Copyright 2002
Globe Newspaper Company.