Bilingual ed advocates marshal forces
State House rally sparks war of words
By Anand Vaishnav, Globe Staff, 10/1/2002
n a demonstration on the State House steps, supporters of bilingual education
yesterday issued a call to defeat an emotionally charged ballot measure that
would replace bilingual programs with English
More than 30 people hoisting signs reading ''Don't sue teachers'' - referring to
one of the most heated planks of the ballot initiative - yesterday denounced the
measure as ''hateful,'' ''spiteful,'' and an ''attack on American values.''
Question 2 would replace bilingual programs in Massachusetts with English
immersion courses intended to last a year, with exceptions, and is backed by
California businessman Ron Unz.
Despite recent polls showing support for the initiative, bilingual education
backers plan to spend the weeks before the Nov. 5 election at rallies and forums
telling voters that Question 2 would usurp control from school systems to
educate limited-English students. Yesterday's news conference featured
traditional backers of bilingual education, such as teachers' unions and
minority groups, but there was at least one surprise: State Representative Marie
P. St. Fleur of Dorchester, who has voiced previous support for immersion in
''We have to have alternative methods because we do not all come to these shores
the same way,'' said St. Fleur, originally from Haiti.
The event also showed how fierce the bilingual education debate has become. One
Villacres, executive director of the Hispanic-American Chamber of Commerce, said
of Unz, ''Half of the
words in his name say Nazi on it, and that says a lot.'' He later retracted the
remark, and other bilingual supporters disavowed it.
Unz, who is Jewish, dismissed Villacres's comment. Instead, he seized on
something else Villacres said: that his son learned English in preschool within
three months and didn't need bilingual education, although acknowledging that
''He is basically proving the point for our case,'' said Unz, who has funded
similar successful initiatives in California and Arizona. ''People on the `no'
side say, `Well, I learned English quickly in a few months, and my son did, and
my cousin did, but other people can't.'''
Lincoln Tamayo, leader of Unz's Massachusetts campaign, made himself available
to the media yesterday too, setting up a few feet away from his opponents.
Assertions that Unz is not a parent and has spent no time in Massachusetts
schools have nothing to do with how best to teach the state's roughly 39,000
bilingual-education students, Tamayo said.
''The overwhelming majority of young immigrant children are capable of learning
English in very short order,'' said Tamayo, adding that Question 2 allows
waivers for disabled students and children older than 10 to remain in immersion
courses for longer than a year.
Yesterday, Unz accepted the Massachusetts Teachers Association's challenge to
visit a bilingual classroom. The average stay for students in a Massachusetts
bilingual education classroom is two and a half years.
Both sides also drew the two major party gubernatorial candidates into the
debate. Bilingual supporters challenged Republican candidate Mitt Romney's
support of Question 2 despite evidence from California questioning its
effectiveness. Statistics show that just 7.8 percent of limited-English students
in California were ''redesignated'' as fluent in English last year, despite
immersion classes. While test scores for limited-Englishstudents have risen, the
achievement gap between them and English-speaking peers has widened.
Romney's deputy campaign manager, Eric Fehrnstrom, referred questions on
statistics to Tamayo. But
Fehrnstrom said, ''Mitt Romney cares about our children, and not teaching them
English is like hanging a millstone around their necks.''
Tamayo said the California redesignation rates are unreliable because each
district sets its own reclassification criteria. He pointed to a new test in
California showing that about 25 percent of limited-English students score in
the top two levels of the exam, suggesting that the reclassification rate is
Tamayo said school districts have an incentive to have limited-English students
because the districts get additional funding. He added that Democrat Shannon
O'Brien's support of bilingual education stemmed from her being ''welded to the
hips to the leadership of teachers' unions.''
O'Brien's spokesman, Adrian Durbin, said the gubernatorial candidate supports a
new law tightening bilingual education programs that promises more
accountability than Unz's question.
''That shows her commitment to making sure our bilingual education system
works,'' Durbin said.
This story ran on page B2 of the Boston Globe on 10/1/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.