Original URL: http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/297/south/School_officials_defend_need_for_bilingual_education+.shtml

School officials defend need for bilingual education

By Joanna Massey, Boston Globe Staff Correspondent, 10/24/2002

Each year as many as 1,500 students speaking 26 different languages pass through Brockton's bilingual education program. School officials say as many as 40 percent of the city's 17,000 students speak a language other than English in
their homes.

The state ballot Question 2 that would replace bilingual education with English immersion, is perceived in the city not just as a philosophical insult, but as a logistical nightmare.

''Brockton has been a very welcoming place for immigrants and we have done very well preparing them for college and the workplace,'' said Margaret Adams, the school district's department head for K-8 bilingual education. ''We want to continue that tradition, and we're very concerned that Question 2 will take away our ability to determine the needs of our students and what kind of programs we place them into.''

City school officials have organized a rally next week to protest Question 2, which is aimed at getting non-English speakers into regular classrooms in one year. The measure, backed by Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz, already has been adopted in California and Arizona. In Massachusetts, it would end a 30-year-old bilingual education policy that allows students to be taught in their native tongue while gradually being introduced to English.

In districts with diverse populations like Brockton, the Unz initiative would be ''devastating,'' school and city officials say. They predict that dropout rates and discipline problems among bilingual students would soar, and that the achievement
gap for limited English proficiency students will grow.

''The way to make bilingual education work is to monitor it the way we do in Brockton, and to have a number of options since no two students learn at the same pace,'' said Brockton Mayor John Yunits Jr. He said he fears approval of Question 2 would result in ''a huge, unfunded mandate for a lot of communities.'' He also said he believes it is unfair to penalize teachers if students have not learned English in the one-year program - a component of the Unz proposal.

''Unless you're going to penalize parents too, that's a real flaw,'' he said.

On average, students in Brockton stay in bilingual courses for 2.7 years, according to Adams. The city has bilingual programs in Spanish, Cape Verdean Creole, Haitian Creole, and Portuguese, as well a general English as a Second Language (ESL) program for many other languages. Adams said a language proficiency team of teachers and administrators determines when each child is ready to be mainstreamed. Sometimes it occurs gradually, with a student taking some subjects in English and some in their native language, she said.

''But now in one magic school year, they're supposed to be fluent in English according to proponents (of Question 2),'' Adams said. ''They say that students are languishing forever in bilingual programs and it's just not true. We're talking about
human beings; each one is a wonder and a puzzle in and of themselves, and each has their own strengths and weaknesses. To say there's one approach to reach all of them is ludicrous.''

While supporters of Question 2 say children should be taught English from the start, opponents argue that putting other subjects on hold to learn English will make students fall behind. Adams said Brockton sees a significant number of older
students new to the country who are trying to read and write in English, but have never learned to read or write in their native language.

Moises Rodrigues, an officer and former president of the Cape Verdean Association of Brockton, said it is ''ridiculous'' to expect students to learn English in one year. He said he believes many voters fail to realize what a small number of students are in bilingual programs - statewide, about 4.6 percent.

''To me, this is a harmful way of dealing with our kids,'' Rodrigues said. ''We're already having such a hard time keeping kids in school and this is one more excuse for them to not stay.''

Joseph O'Sullivan, president of the Brockton Educators Association, said about 80 percent of Brockton High School graduates attend a two- or four-year college. With such a large immigrant population, that figure - along with improving MCAS scores - indicates the bilingual program is working, he said.

''I try to put myself in their shoes,'' O'Sullivan said. ''How would you or I like to go to Japan and in three years take a test in Japanese that would determine the rest of our lives? Because that's what these kids are facing.''

The Question 2 protest rally is scheduled for Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., on the steps of City Hall. Sponsored by the Brockton Educators Association and the ''Unz-No English-Yes'' Brockton Community Committee, the rally will feature speakers from Brockton and surrounding communities.

Joanna Massey can be reached by e-mail at massey@globe.com.

This story ran on page 1 of the Globe South section on 10/24/2002. Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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