Bilingualism is faulty investment
The Waco Tribune-Herald
January 17, 2005


 FREDERICKSBURG When a state district judge in Austin recently declared the state school  finance system unconstitutional, the main reason given was that the school funding law  violates the Texas Constitution's requirement that the state provide sufficient funding for public schools.

 The judge seemed to rely heavily on the testimony of the state demographer who said that  much of our school enrollment growth is represented by immigrants who have limited English  skills and tend to be economically disadvantaged.

 The implication is that more money is needed because an increasing number of our students are "more difficult to teach" because they are poor and speak very little English.

 Traditionally, the method used to accomplish this task is bilingual education, a program that costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

 But the judge said nothing about the effectiveness of this program. As far as I can tell, there was no testimony provided that gave him any guidance one way or the other.

 I am unaware of any empirical studies that show that the billions of dollars spent nationwide on this program have yielded any positive results. In fact, most education experts feel that it has been a dismal failure.

 Former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett calls bilingual education a "politically inspired semi-hoax on millions of immigrant children."

 He says that "for many students, it slows rather than speeds up their evolution into young Americans who are comfortable, fluent, and successful in English."

 In spite of the lack of research supporting the effectiveness of bilingual education, Texas law says that "any school district with an enrollment of 20 or more students of limited English proficiency in the same grade level must offer a bilingual education program in the elementary grades."

 They have the option of offering either bilingual education or English as a second language (ESL) in middle school and must offer ESL in high school. The good news is that the parents may choose to opt their children out of these programs, and many do.

 Our schools should use immersion methods to ensure that all children who don't speak English learn it as quickly as possible.

 This means that students spend most of the day in regular English-speaking classes..

 Change should not be difficult. All branches of state government are controlled by Republicans, and the state Republican Party platform calls for the "termination of bilingual education programs." Yet very little has been done.

 Maybe we will see something constructive in this legislative session that would benefit thousands of limited English-proficient students and provide a good start toward solving our present school funding crisis.

 Dan Montgomery of Fredericksburg represents District 5 on the State Board of Education.
The Waco Tribune-Herald