Some folks in Denver are calling for pulling kids out of the regular academic program for one year. There is no research base for this kind of intervention. If anthing, this will put kids on an even slower track relative to their peers who have learned only in their firs language. I hope that this proposal doesn't get any further. -Angela
English initiative advances
LANGUAGE: A group proposes immersing non-English-speaking students in English classes for a year, with no other area of study.
By Karen Rouse / DenverPost.com
Immigrant advocates who celebrated a major victory before the Colorado Supreme Court on Monday suffered a lesser-known defeat on another ballot issue, this one affecting English learners in public schools.
The state's highest court - which ruled Monday that a proposal to ban state services to illegal immigrants would not go before voters in November - also gave the green light to another group that has been pushing a measure to accelerate English language instruction for non-English-speaking students.
English for Colorado, a group of Weld County citizens that includes Commissioner William Jerke, is promoting proposed ballot issue No. 95, the "Education of English-Language Learners."
Under the proposal, students who are not proficient in English would get to spend up to one year in English-instruction classes before they are returned to a regular mainstream classroom.
During that year of English instruction, students would primarily be taught in English, and they would not participate in other content areas such as math, science or social studies, said Bill Garcia, a lawyer from Weld County who is backing the measure.
"The kids would focus on learning English first, and they would be able to get back and focus in classes," said Garcia, who also is seeking election to the Weld County Commission. The proposed initiative is not an "English-only" measure, he said.
"It's not English only. It's English primary," Garcia said. "There probably needs to be some assistance provided" in the foreign language.
Manolo Gonzales-Estay, campaign manager for English Plus - the group that in 2002 led the defeat of Amendment 31, an English-only ballot initiative, and is now fighting No. 95 - said the proposal takes away choice from school districts.
"We now have multiple choices parents can take," said Gonzales-Estay, who works for a political consulting firm, Welchert & Britz Inc. "There's English immersion. There's dual language. Not every child is the same."
English Plus last month challenged the initiative, saying its language did not make clear enough to voters how restrictive it is.
But on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that the state's Title Board, which oversees ballot language, acted properly last month when it approved the language.
Proponents of No. 95 now have until Aug. 7 to collect 67,829 signatures, said Dana Williams, spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office. Under the proposal, some students - such as those who are 10 or older or have special needs - could apply for waivers to get bilingual instruction.
Also, if 20 or more students in the same grade at one school get waivers, the school would have to provide those students with a bilingual-education option, he said. If there are fewer than 20 students, the district could offer its own bilingual program for students but would not be required to. If there is no bilingual program, students could transfer to another school or district - at district expense if the alternative is more than 2 miles away.
There are about 98,000 students in Colorado public schools identified as English-language learners, said Barbara Medina, director of the state's English Language Acquisition Unit.
Instruction can range from mainstreaming, where students are in a class with other English- fluent students, to pull-outs, where students are pulled out for a portion of the day for instruction in English or instruction in English and Spanish, officials said.
Medina said there are students representing 143 languages in Colorado schools, but 86 percent come from a Spanish-speaking background.
Richard Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition, a student advocacy group, said the English proposal would segregate students.
"So you segregate them for one year, and you teach them English, and what happens to that content area," he said. "They're going to lose ... content."
Bill Garcia, the initiative's proponent, said students need to master English first so that they can grasp content in other subjects. "Children are not able to fully engage in the classwork and engage in the teaching if they don't have a grasp of the language," he said.
Jane Urschel, associate executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, is concerned the proposal interferes with the right of districts to local control. "It is very restrictive, and kids learn differently, and it's a disservice to kids to say this can be accomplished" in a year.
The proposal also would require that the students be tested annually in English.
Staff writer Karen Rouse can be reached at 303-820-1684 or firstname.lastname@example.org.