Bilingual methods gain notice
The Dallas Morning News
February 4, 2006
Dallas: Education official calls for more growth in English, math, science
  A federal education official is calling on Texas bilingual educators to make sure children learn English and at the same time make progress in core subjects such as math and science.

"We must increase English language acquisition," said Kathleen Leos, assistant deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Education's Office of English Language Acquisition. "That doesn't mean English-only. We want students learning English whether they're transitioning into it or learning two languages at the same time."

  Ms. Leos, the former president of the Dallas school board, visited Southern Methodist University's Meadows Museum for a bilingual education summit Friday. About 50 people attended.

  Her visit comes at a time when debate on the best method of instruction for students who are learning English as a second language is growing.

  There are about 5.5 million such students in the country, 80 percent of whom are Spanish speakers. Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, states are required to develop English proficiency standards and tie them to standards in reading, math, science and social studies.

  The federal department is currently studying three of the most common models: English-only immersion, dual-language and bilingual education. Ms. Leos acknowledged there is not much research available on the effectiveness of each method, and states are left to choose.

  The Texas State Board of Education will discuss English-only instruction Feb. 9. Ken Noonan, superintendent of schools in Oceanside, Calif., is visiting the state board to present information on what he sees as the benefits of English-only instruction.

  Texas requires bilingual education for elementary school students if there are 20 children in the same grade and language group in a school who are limited in English. Bilingual programs begin instruction with a mixture of the student's primary language and English instruction. English is increasingly used in instruction so that students can ultimately leave the program.

Dual-language programs have become increasingly popular in Texas and in the nation. They usually give equal weight to Spanish and English. English-speaking children can also participate.

  Texas Association for Bilingual Education president Leo Gomez has argued that dual programs are more effective and that children in traditional bilingual programs are not achieving literacy in either  language. El Paso, Grand Prairie and Prosper schools have dual programs.

  Ms. Leos said finding qualified teachers for such programs is a challenge.

And students who move around a lot also may face difficulties because not all schools use the same teaching approach.

"We have students who change schools three times a year," she said. "And what does that do for program consistency?"


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