Thursday, July 12, 2007

Dual-language classes in Texas stir debate

Geez. This merits a response. Where does one begin...? Actual research on dual language education is helpful.


Dual-language classes in Texas stir debate

AUSTIN — Here's the plan: Put young children who struggle with English
in a classroom with English-speaking students and teach in two

Soon, both groups of children will become bilingual and bi-literate
with the youngsters helping each other develop two languages, say
supporters of the dual language immersion program.

But others are balking at the experiment that Texas lawmakers approved
this spring, contending it's turning classrooms into laboratories.

With House Bill 2814, legislators created a six-year pilot program that
will test a dual language plan in up to 10 Texas public school
districts and 30 campuses.

English was not the first language for more than 731,000 children
attending Texas public schools last year.

Those children, identified as "limited English proficient," spoke
hundreds of foreign languages, although Spanish was spoken by 92

"We know that dual language works, but we have failed to articulate the
benefits of placing native English speakers in dual language programs,"
said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, sponsor of the Senate
version of the bill. "They will learn Spanish or some other language,
becoming bilingual and bi-literate. When they are little, you can do

Learning multiple languages should always be encouraged, said Rep.
Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, although she opposes the pilot project

"I think the purpose behind this is to help bring up to speed
Spanish-speaking kids and turning other kids into guinea pigs," she

Seven of her own nine grandchildren are younger than 6, she said: "They
are grandchildren, not grand-guinea pigs."

Children in her suburban school district northwest of Houston speak
more than 70 languages, Riddle said.

"I don't care what they are speaking," she said. "They are in America.
They need to master the English language. This is not a dual-language
country. We speak English in this country."

On the national stage

"The bottom line of life is that we don't all speak the same language,"
House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, said,
acknowledging that national debate over immigration has triggered
deep-seated antagonism.

The Senate voted 28-2 for the pilot project, while the House approved
it 106-34. No Democrat opposed the bill.

Riddle said she fears the project will dilute the need to master

"I think we are worshipping at the feet of diversity," Riddle said.
"There's nothing wrong with diversity, but to minimize English as the
primary language of this nation is a mistake, and I think it's a
mistake for our kids. Kids need to master the English language,

The issue should not focus on immigration because the law requires
Texas to educate all children living here, said Jesse Romero, a San
Antonio-based legislative consultant for the Texas Association For
Bilingual Education.

"If they are going to be educated, let's do it the right way," Romero
said. "If we don't educate the children, we're not going to have a
viable work force, and if we don't have a viable and educated work
force, we're not going to be attractive to the economic development
that our state leaders continue to say that Texas is all about."

Eissler said opponents of his bill believe immigrants need to bend to
us rather than us to them.

But he views the issue in terms of education.

"The more you know, the better off you are is my theory of life. The
more we can teach our kids, the better off we're going to be," Eissler
said. "The younger you are, the more adept you are in learning another
language, so why do we wait to high school to teach language?"

A growing problem

Previous studies have shown that it costs about 40 percent more to
educate limited English students, although the state funds school
districts by an extra 10 percent to teach them.

Only 8 percent of limited English proficient 10th-graders passed all
parts of the state's assessment test in the 2005-06 school year,
according to the Texas Education Agency, and the number of limited
English proficient students is increasing. While about 16 percent of
all public school children last year were limited-English proficient,
more than one-fourth of first-graders struggled with English.

In the state's largest urban school districts — Houston, Dallas and
Fort Worth — more than 40 percent of first-graders were limited-English

"These school districts do represent a growing statewide trend, and it
does pose a significant challenge to our educators," Van de Putte said.
"The reality is that the numbers are increasing. We can wring our hands
and say the federal government needs to take care of this. But that
doesn't help us with outcomes."

One success story

The success of dual language immersion programs has been evident in
Cedar Brook Elementary in the Spring Branch school district.

Preliminary results show the school will be ranked exemplary following
two years of recognized ratings after a federal grant allowing Cedar
Brook to test a dual language program.

About half the school's children are limited English proficient, said
Catherine Robinson, the former principal at Cedar Brook.

"Most Texans probably are not aware of the challenges facing educators
with large numbers of limited English proficient students," she said.

They must learn academic content in addition to a new language.

"When students are acquiring and differentiating a language — when the
language is a language other than English — then the challenge of
learning in an academically rigorous setting in English is substantial
for these students," said Robinson, who is now executive director of
Spring Branch's Teaching and Learning program, which develops
curriculum and instruction for struggling students.

No comments:

Post a Comment