Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Is Bilingual Education Failing to Help America's Schoolchildren?

Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Is Bilingual Education Failing to Help America's Schoolchildren?

Article excerpt

Yes: The agenda

of Latino activists

is closing the door

on many Hispanic


A mother should know.

To measure the success of bilingual education in America, listen to the testimonies of some Hispanic mothers who are suing the state of New York for keeping their children in bilingual programs beyond the state-mandated three years. Juana Zarzuela testified that her son was transferred from bilingual education to special education despite her objection to his participation in either program. "My son has been in bilingual education for five years and in special education since 1994. [He] cannot read or write in English or Spanish," she said. Carmen Quinones testified, "My son is in ninth grade and has been in bilingual education since he entered the school system. My son is confused between Spanish and English."

Ada Jimenez testified that her grandson also cannot read or write in either language after five years of bilingual education. According to Jimenez: "I personally met one of his teachers in the bilingual program who did not speak any English. We were told that because my grandson has a Spanish last name, he should remain in bilingual classes." Because of his name, the school put Jimenez's grandson into a bilingual program in which up to 80 percent of his day was spent in Spanish - even though he did not speak any Spanish.

Parents aren't the only ones upset about bilingual education. Edwin Selzer, an assistant principal for social studies at one New York high school, testified that "once a child was in a bilingual program, he remained in such a program and was never mainstreamed into English-speaking classes. Even when students themselves asked to withdraw from the bilingual program, the assistant principal [for] foreign languages did not grant their request." Selzer also stated that "even the Spanish skills of students in bilingual programs were poor - many students graduating from Eastern District High School were illiterate in both English and Spanish."

Bilingual education is not just a problem in New York, but across the nation, and these kids aren't all immigrants. Of all children whom the federal government estimates need help in English, 60 percent are U.S.-born American citizens, some of whose families go back several generations. Nor are language-minority children the only ones who suffer from this program; native English speakers are subjected to a substandard education in the name of diversity as well.

Cherise Johnson's son was placed in a bilingual dual-immersion program in a California school despite her objections. According to the school, there was no space available in regular classrooms. Dual immersion combines native English- and other-language speakers for instruction in two languages. This type of instruction is being promoted in several cities in California, Michigan, New Jersey and Massachusetts. But the method is not suitable for all children, especially those who already may be performing below grade level.

San Francisco experimented with dual immersion and decided to abandon it. School Superintendent Bill Rojas banned 600 English-speaking black students from Chinese bilingual programs because their test scores were far below that of black students in regular classes. "We would go and visit schools and find three African-American students in a class with 27 Chinese students. I'd see a teacher trying to talk multilingually. I'd say, `Aren't the English-speaking students getting less?' and she'd say, `Yes'" Rojas told the Los Angeles Times last June.

In Los Angeles, Latino parents were so upset about the failure of bilingual education that they kept nearly 100 of their children from school for almost two weeks to protest the lack of sufficient instruction in English. One parent told Education Week, "I don't want to wait so long for her to be in all-English classes. I want her to be a professional when she grows up, to have more than us. …

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