Education board considers immersion for non-English speakers
The State Board of Education plans to discuss English-immersion instruction as
a possible alternative to the bilingual programs in place in Texas schools.
Supporters of both methods of teaching English are expected to speak at the
board's meeting next week. The 15-member elected board oversees the state's
In bilingual classes, students are taught in their native languages while they
are learning English. In immersion programs, the students receive all or most of
their instruction in English.
Proponents of immersion programs say they capitalize on the ability of young
students' brains to absorb a new language. But critics argue that the programs
"We're not out to undo years and years of what we've done," said Gail Lowe, a
Republican board member from Lampasas. "But it's incumbent on us to be informed
about successful programs."
More than 14 percent of Texas students, or about 631,500, were in bilingual or
English as a Second Language programs last school year. School districts with 20
or more students with limited English skills in the same grade are required by
state law to offer bilingual education.
State House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, said in a speech last month that
the state needs more accountability in making sure students are progressing
toward English proficiency.
Among the speakers invited to the Feb. 9 education board meeting is Don Soifer,
vice president of the Lexington Institute. The Virginia-based think tank
advocates limited government and market-based solutions to public policy
Soifer has said bilingual programs segregate students and often put more
emphasis on multicultural studies than on teaching students to read and write in
Geraldine Miller, a Dallas Republican and the board chairwoman, said in a
letter to Soifer that the board wants to learn how it "can encourage school
districts within Texas to move into this model of successful instruction to
enable non-English speakers to close the achievement gap more effectively."
Board member Joe Bernal, D-San Antonio, said bilingual programs have helped
minority students in Texas when compared with similar students in other states.
"We have developed a program with a lot of accountability," he said.
Immersion instruction has not been successful in Arizona, said Jeff MacSwan,
an associate professor of language and literacy at Arizona State University. He
said 11 percent of students in a study of the program became proficient in
English after one year in immersion.
Kenneth Noonan, superintendent of schools in Oceanside, Calif., and a member
of the California State Board of Education, is also expected to speak at the
meeting. In California, non-English speaking students are required to spend at
least one year in an English-immersion classroom.
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.chron.com