hears English debate
Feb. 10, 2006
Board hears English debate
Web Posted: 02/10/2006 12:00 AM CST
AUSTIN — The debate over how best to teach students English
has caused turmoil in California and controversy in Arizona.
Thursday, that debate came home as the State Board of Education heard from
proponents of immersion — an approach that uses English almost exclusively
to teach foreign language speakers — and those who say Texas should maintain
its nearly four-decades-long policy of bilingual instruction.
board doesn't control the state's policy, but it can ask legislators to
change state law to require the immersion method.
member Gail Lowe, a Republican from Lampasas, asked two advocates of English
immersion for an overview. Supporters of bilingual education from across
Texas were also on hand.
"English-only models deny access to an equal educational opportunity," said
Elena Izquierdo, vice president of the Texas Association for Bilingual
Education and a professor at the University of Texas-El Paso. "Many times
students will leave the program weak in their first language, weak in their
second language, and as a result we get a student that's illiterate in two
said the presentation was intended only for the board's education though
legislators were invited. Rep. Jim Jackson, a Republican from Carrollton,
was at the meeting and Reps. Jeff Wentworth, of San Antonio, and Jerry
Madden, of Plano, both Republicans, sent staff.
the same time as the presentation, a federal lawsuit was filed Thursday in
Tyler asking the state to improve supervision over English as a Second
Language and bilingual education programs, the Associated Press reported.
lawsuit filed by Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the
Multicultural Training, Education and Advocacy, Inc., asks that the Texas
Education Agency be ordered to develop a monitoring system to ensure
students who are learning English don't fall behind.
the meeting, nearly 25 bilingual teachers, college professors and
researchers decried English immersion. The only people who spoke in its
favor were the two out-of-state presenters: a school district director from
California and a Washington-based think tank representative.
Urelius, a director with the Oceanside Unified School District in
California, said structured English immersion has been a success.
California voters passed Proposition 227 in 1998, teachers can speak only
English for the first 30 days of school. They can clarify instructions using
Spanish after the first 30 days, and the students receive at least 45
minutes of targeted English language instruction each day.
Soiffer, vice president of the Lexington Institute, has studied the impact
of Proposition 227 and said it is benefiting children learning English in
California's public schools. "There have been strong, steady gains in
English proficiency in the last three years," Soiffer said.
Stephen Krashen, a professor at the University of Southern California, said
those gains may not be valid for a number of reasons. For example, test
scores in Oceanside were extremely low prior to Proposition 227.
think because of a bad bilingual program," Krashen said.
state switched tests the same year the law went into effect.
generation of Hispanic Texans was educated using what many consider a cruel
version of English immersion. Children were banned from using Spanish and
were punished, often ostracized, if they did. Complaints led to a change in
state law in 1969 that required schools to provide bilingual education.
"English only has already been tried here and it was a failed experiment,"
said Debra Palmer, an assistant professor in the bilingual program at
the 1969 law, Texas has been a leader in bilingual education, using the
foundation of a child's native language to teach not only English, but other
academic subjects. Students slowly transition to all-English classes.
the state has more than 200 dual language programs designed to help develop
command of Spanish while teaching English at the same time.
lead the nation in this field," Izquierdo said. "Everyone looks to Texas."
Wentworth said he will keep an open mind about immersion.
Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said she wouldn't rule out immersion,
but she isn't convinced either.
would have to see some strong, hard, evidence-based research that proves it
because I'm not going to gamble on the future of these kids," said Van de
Putte, a member of the Senate's Education Committee.
Wright, a professor of bilingual and bicultural studies at the
University of Texas San Antonio was a bilingual teacher in California and
studied English immersion education in Arizona before coming to Texas.
"There is no evidence that shows structured English immersion is superior to
bilingual education," he said.
bottom line is they need to follow our example in Texas. We don't need to
follow their mistakes.