Banishing Bilingualism. (Comment)

By Katz, Susan; Kohl, Herbert | The Nation, December 9, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Banishing Bilingualism. (Comment)


Katz, Susan, Kohl, Herbert, The Nation


Within the next decade, 30-40 percent of current public school teachers in the United States will retire, opening up more than 700,000 teaching positions. This provides a great opportunity to develop energized young teachers who could revitalize public education. But it could also be an opening to mold a new generation of teachers who know only increasingly rigid standards, high-stakes testing, inflexible Eurocentric curriculum and English-only learning.

In California, the State Board of Education has chosen the latter path. Through directives, legislation and the redefinition of teacher credential programs, the word "bilingual" has been banished from the vocabulary of schooling in California, replaced by "English-language learning." Instruction in students' native language is against the law. Instead, non-English-speaking students are tested in English, which frequently guarantees their failure, since many do not even understand the instructions.

These state mandates ignore the most significant language-acquisition research findings of the past twenty years: Students learn a second language best when they can build academically upon their first language. The policies also ignore a 1998 report of student achievement (as measured in standardized test scores) that showed that English-language learners enrolled in bilingual programs in San Francisco and San Jose schools outperformed native-born English speakers in all content areas. These programs are now at risk of being dismantled in favor of a uniform system that suppresses many children's first language.

In an attempt to remake a teaching force in California that lacks any memory of bilingual education and any skill in teaching to the strengths of non-English-speaking students, the board of education has decided to end the granting of the two major teaching credentials--CLAD (Cross-cultural Language and Academic Development) and BCLAD (Bilingual Cross-cultural Language and Academic Development). These credentials meant that prospective teachers get training in the theory and practice of teaching bilingual children, respecting the use of students' home language and culture while helping ease their transition into English-language schooling. By the end of 2003, when 45 percent of the students in California public schools will be living in non-English-speaking homes, these credentials will be phased out.

The board has gone so far as to expunge the words "bilingual" and "culture" from its official literature. This strategy is accompanied by a strict emphasis on phonics teaching, high-stakes testing and centralized control over the content of learning through state-adopted textbooks and highly specific statewide content standards.

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