Original URL: http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/287/nation/Colo_Ponders_a_ban_on_bilingual_education+.shtml

Colo. Ponders a ban on bilingual education
Like Mass. initiative, Nov. 5 question would substitute immersion

By Chryss Cada, Boston Globe Correspondent, 10/14/2002

FORT COLLINS, Colo. - In the first-grade class at Harris Bilingual Elementary School, it is just another Tuesday for Paola Rascon and just another Martes for Cole Purdy.

Lunchtime has just ended, and two groups of students have switched classrooms. Cole and his fellow native English speakers have moved into Isa Pinedo's classroom to learn Spanish as a second language. Paola and other native Spanish
speakers have filed into Carolina Levy-Bennett's classroom to take English as a second language.

In the morning, each group of pupils worked on literacy in their primary language. But now they are seated in separate circles, learning another language through songs and repetitive drills. This particular method is called two-way bilingual
education.

The teaching techniques used at Harris School in Fort Collins and other bilingual programs at schools across the state face a political challenge. On Nov. 5, Colorado voters will decide a ballot question - virtually identical to one that will be submitted to Massachusetts voters that day, and also sponsored by California millionaire Ron Unz - to ban bilingual education and replace it with one year of immersion in English. One difference is that the Colorado initiative, Amendment 31, would insert the change into the state's constitution.

In Republican-leaning Colorado, nearly every state official, including Governor Bill Owens, has come out against the proposal. But the latest polls indicate about 48 percent of the state's voters favor the bilingual ban, significantly less than the support found in Massachusetts surveys. About 23,000 students in Colorado take bilingual education, about 3 percent of statewide enrollment.

Proponents of the Colorado initiative include some Latino parents who say their children have been forced into bilingual education, which they consider to be a biased practice.

''Bilingual education is a system designed to keep a whole class of people in the language ghetto,'' said Rita Montero, a former member of Denver's school board who organized the initiative campaign. ''If our kids are stuck in bilingual education they can't progress economically. I think people are afraid that if we teach every child English there won't be anyone to mow their lawn for $5 an hour or hand them a burger across the drive-up window.''

Olga Larson, who is from Peru, fought unsuccessfully to have her children removed from a bilingual program in Denver. Eventually, she put both in private school.

''My son came home one day and announced he hated school,'' she said. ''That's when I learned they had put him in bilingual education. I didn't make the decision to put him there - they make that decision for parents.''

But Jay Smith, whose daughter is learning Spanish at Academia Ana Maria Sandoval in Denver, the state's other two-way bilingual school, said the proposed ban would take away choice from parents.

''My daughter is in an exceptional bilingual program that will be dismantled if this amendment passes,'' Smith said. ''Not only do I lose control of how my daughter is taught, the change is written in stone.''

Like Smith, parents who chose to put their native English-speaking child in bilingual education are fiercely loyal to that style of learning. At Harris School, many Latino children have ''No on 31'' buttons pinned on their small T-shirts.

Pat Stryker, a philanthropist whose daughter is enrolled in the third grade at the school, donated $3 million to the ''No on 31'' campaign. It is the single largest political contribution in the state's history and has been used to saturate Colorado
television stations with ads opposing the initiative.

Unz, the force behind bilingual bans that passed in California in 1998 and Arizona in 2000, provided $350,000 to get the Colorado initiative on the ballot.

The wording in Colorado, as in Massachusetts, would make it difficult for parents to obtain waivers to allow their children to stay in bilingual education. The large number of waivers obtained in California has weakened the ban's impact there.

''People were allowed to ignore the California initiative,'' Unz said. ''We learned from the example and tightened up the language.''

The Colorado version would give schools more power to reject waiver requests than schools would have in Massachusetts. There are other differences in how immersion would be implemented and how costs would be paid in each state.

Besides the question of whether bilingual education has been effective, Colorado's debate about the proposed ban has focused on teachers being subject to lawsuits if they do not comply with it and the cost of implementing the initiative.

Based on expenditures in Arizona, opponents of the ban say it would cost Colorado a minimum of $30 million to switch to immersion classes.

As the debate continues, so have bilingual classes at Harris School. Once the second language part of the day is over, students return to their regular classrooms for social studies, science and math.

Cole said ''adios'' to Mrs. Pinedo, and Paola said ''goodbye'' to Mrs. Levy-Bennett. Voters will decide next month whether they will be saying goodbye for good.

This story ran on page A2 of the Boston Globe on 10/14/2002. Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

 


 

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