Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Working Overtime to Make Bilingual Education Succeed

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Working Overtime to Make Bilingual Education Succeed

Article excerpt

I teach English to children who speak Spanish as their first language. So, from the middle of the controversy over bilingual education, I can see both sides of the debate.

My insider's conclusion is that bilingual education can produce successful students. But I also believe parents and voters are justifiably frustrated when administrators and teachers bungle the job.

Kids can falter in bilingual programs for several reasons: if a school (or district) tries to build a program without an informed theoretical foundation; a district has unrealistic time lines for English competency; or the staff is insufficiently trained.

School districts should be in control of all of these factors. Unfortunately, school policies are often shaped by people who are well meaning, but not necessarily well informed. Even good policies, if not followed by good practice, sabotage student success.

My first experience with bilingual education was an example of what shouldn't happen. I had accepted a bilingual teaching position knowing my Spanish wasn't fluent enough. I'd allowed the interviewer to assure me a few classes would fix any problems.

But my students' problems had begun long before they entered my class. Some years the children were taught in Spanish. Other years, classes were in English. The result was that many of my third-graders could barely read in either language. We floundered together.

So, the next summer I went to work, taking intensive Spanish classes and learning techniques for teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) and core subjects to second-language learners. In addition to my own work, a new school principal constructed a comprehensive bilingual-education program.

We implemented literacy instruction in Spanish (by fluent teachers) for all Spanish-speaking children and built ESL into our curriculum as a distinct subject. …

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