Some native English speakers seek bilingual ed
By Michele Kurtz, Globe Staff, 10/26/2002
One in a series of stories taking a closer look at bilingual education and
Ballot Question 2.
The bilingual education ballot initiative targets students who don't speak
English, but some parents and educators fear it will spell doom for ''two-way''
efforts, popular academic programs that include teaching native English speakers
a foreign language.
A smattering of schools around the state offer two-way bilingual education where
non-English speakers learn the language alongside native English speakers who
learn a foreign language - usually Spanish.
The programs appeal to some Spanish-speaking parents who see it as a way to have
their children hang on to their culture; it appeals also to English-speaking
parents who believe their children benefit from learning a foreign language
early and interacting with students from another culture.
Theresa Thayer, who has three daughters in a Framingham two-way program, is
frustrated over the ballot initiative - and the threat she thinks it poses. Not
only has her daughter Katherine, a fourth-grader, learned Spanish, but she's
made Spanish-speaking friends and grown more accepting of other cultures, Thayer
''It's like she doesn't know any different,'' she said. ''From a personal
perspective, I'm a taxpayer. I'm paying for this [bilingual education] anyway.
It's nice my children get to benefit as well.''
But that bothers Carol Sanchez, who considered Framingham's two-way programs for
her kindergartner son. He is proficient in English, but Sanchez said that young
Spanish-speaking students in the program spent too much time learning in their
native language during the first two years.
''Right now I feel that the Spanish-speaking kids are being used so the other
kids can be bilingual,'' said Sanchez, who came to the United States from Peru
as a child. ''I don't want it done on the backs of the immigrant children.''
Both mothers are lobbying Framingham voters in the campaigns for and against
Although two-way programs account for a small fraction of bilingual education
approaches used statewide, parents of two-way students are among the most vocal
opponents of the proposed bilingual education ban. They include: Tim Duncan, the
chairman of the campaign fighting Ballot Question 2 in Massachusetts, and in
Colorado, an heiress gave $3 million to battle a similar ballot initiative in
The Massachusetts initiative pushed by California millionaire Ron Unz would bar
native language instruction and replace it with one year of English immersion.
If voters approve the measure Nov. 5, some parents and school officials worry,
two-way programs would all but die because incoming Spanish-speakers would have
to become fluent in English first - or get a waiver.
''I'm very anxious about it. It could mean an end to our program,'' said
Christina Cooney, a second-grade teacher at Framingham's Brophy School. ''Our
kids aren't losing anything. Our native Spanish speakers are learning English.''
But supporters of the Unz initiative say current bilingual education programs -
including two-way - don't teach all students English fast enough. And they argue
that parents and teachers in two-way programs are exaggerating the ban's effect
''Our opponents have tried to paint a very harsh picture about what the ballot
issue would do to these kinds of programs,'' said Lincoln Tamayo, chairman of
English for the Children of Massachusetts. ''They can continue with the vast
majority if not all of their programs.''
Most often found in elementary schools, two-way programs operate in about a
dozen Massachusetts school districts, including Boston and Cambridge. School
districts on average receive between $900 and $1,400 extra in state money for
each student with limited English who is enrolled in bilingual education, but
some property-wealthy districts do not receive extra money for those students.
In the case of two-way programs, the additional dollars often pay for bilingual
The amount of English that students in two-way programs know varies, school
officials said. Some already have conversational English and may be placed with
the English speakers, depending on the school.
Schools also differ in how they execute two-way programs. Some teach students
half of the day in English, half in another language. At the Brophy School,
young students spend most of their day in their native language, and some time
foreign one. Educators there say students should become literate in their native
language first. By third grade, students spend alternating weeks in each
Spinning a globe in her hands, teacher Martha Fuentes recently traced the voyage
of Christopher Columbus for her second-grade students. She shares the students -
and another class - with her colleague Cooney; sometimes students are grouped by
their native language and sometimes they're mixed. For this week, social studies
is taught in Spanish to a combined group.
Jovanny Gonzalez, 8, a student on the English side of the program, peers through
a makeshift telescope and then, smiling, shouts from a cue card: ''!Encontre
tierra!'' - ''I found land!''
Last spring, 83 percent of Brophy third graders with limited English who took
the MCAS passed the English portion of the test, said Susan McGilvray-Rivet,
Framingham's bilingual education director. That number was 90 percent for
students at Barbieri Elementary School, where the program is more established.
Statewide, about 76 percent of third-graders with limited English passed the
In Cambridge, school officials began using only the two-way model for incoming
English learners after students in those classes posted better scores on the
Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam than those in transitional
bilingual education. (Students in such programs are not mixed with
English-speakers for most of the day; they take many classes in their native
language while gradually learning more English.)
Ricardo Maldonado is one of those Spanish-speaking parents who swears by two-way
and enrolled his son Daniel, now a third grader, at Cambridge's Amigos School.
Originally from Spain, Maldonado is an administrator at Harvard who says
he and his American-born wife speak Spanish at home.
''The problem we have is not for the kids to learn English. They absorb that,''
Maldonado said. ''The problem is for them to keep the Spanish. That's why we're
Beatriz Bolgorio fought for years to get her son in two-way at the Amigos
School. Bolgorio, who moved from Peru as a teenager and speaks halting English,
said through an interpreter that she wanted her children to perfect their
Spanish even as they absorb the English around them. Her daughter now attends
the program too.
And to those who say the ''two-way'' programs come at the expense of non-English
speakers, Duncan, chairman of the Committee for Fairness to Children and
Teachers that is campaigning against Unz, said parents of non-English speakers
can put their children in regular English classes.
But Tamayo says that's not the point.
''Bilingual education is not about having English-speaking kids learning
Spanish,'' he said. ''It is all about teaching Spanish-speaking kids to become
successful in an English-speaking classroom as soon as possible.''
One reason educators fear the ''two-way'' programs - which they say are most
effective when they start with younger students - may disappear is because of
the uncertainty over how difficult it may be to obtain waivers. Under the
students age 10 and up can apply for waivers to continue in two-way. But
students younger than that who are not proficient in English can only receive a
waiver after 30 days in English immersion. And the worry is that schools and
parents may become reluctant to disrupt a student's routine after school has
''It would just slowly wipe out the program from the bottom up,'' said McGilvray-Rivet,
director of bilingual education in Framingham, which has a two-way bilingual
program from kindergarten through high school.
Despite the concern, some administrators still hope to keep the programs intact
even if new Spanish speakers have to spend a year in sheltered English immersion
classes before transferring into two-way. Even as they work to save the programs
and defeat the Unz initiative, some proponents acknowledge two-way efforts
wouldn't work in every school district.
''They tend to be more successful where taxes are higher and parents are more
involved in education,'' Duncan said. ''It doesn't necessarily provide a
solution to kids learning English in a Lawrence or New Bedford where some
having to work two jobs.''
This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 10/26/2002. © Copyright 2002
Globe Newspaper Company.