Monday, July 16, 2007

More is more: Dual language education strengthens children in two idioms.

I'm so glad to see that the editors of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE decided to respond to the earlier post titled "Dual-language classes in Texas stir debate" as this piece was highly problematic. I encourage folks to read Carlos Blanton's book, "The Strange Career of Bilingual Education in Texas." He demonstrates, among other things, that bilingual schools were a stepping stool to Europeans that traveled to history. Texas very much has a bilingual schooling history, albeit within a context of educational anarchy for so much of our history as a states. So, it's not the case that Texas is "doing for" a particuarl community (read: Mexicans), but rather that bilingual education has been important to assimilation for all immigrants (or at least the Swedes, Czechs, and the Poles) in Texas and this is a past about which we are regrettably myopic. It has disappeared from much of our public memory though there are silos is in the Central Texas Hill Country, where it remains a collective source of identity and history.


July 13, 2007, 8:11PM
More is more: Dual language education strengthens children in two idioms.

Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

Given time, every immigrant family in this country will end up with English speakers. Adults may not speak the language, but most of their children will, and their children might not speak anything else. In the process of learning English, though, first- or second-generation children miss other key elements of education. Often, they drop out.

Texas can't afford to waste another generation — which is why the Legislature was so enlightened when it launched a pilot project for young children with low English skills.

The six-year program will bring "dual language" learning to 30 Texas schools. The results will likely be those that all Texans want: immigrant children speaking fluent English; native and non-native speakers with equal achievement scores; and native English speakers who are bilingual, with all the cognitive edge that comes with that, by middle school.

Unlike bilingual education, which separates native and non-native speakers, with mixed results, dual language unites English- and non-English-speaking children in the same classroom.

Students start with 90 percent instruction in the minority language, ending with 50-50 instruction by 5th grade, or they may start with 50-50 instruction.

It would sound like hype if dual language hadn't been so deeply tested. Used widely in Canada since the 1960s, dual language training was found by two separate San Antonio school commissions to be the best way to bring Spanish-speakers up to their peers' achievement levels.

Closing the achievement gulf is urgent not only for the well-being of the children themselves, but also for Texas' economy, which hinges on educated, competitive workers.

Perhaps most persuasive, principals who have used dual language, from Utah to Houston, love the results.

Yet a few leaders seem willfully to misunderstand both the approach and its goal. "They are in America," Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, said of non-native speakers. "They need to master the English language."

Well — yes. And in the area's existing dual language programs, students are doing just that. Starting with major English deficits, the students by sixth grade equal or outscore their peers in most subjects. Meanwhile, their native-speaker classmates — whom Riddle calls "guinea pigs" — also thrive. For native English speakers, immersion in a second language actually enhances their English and other academic subjects. In addition to learning their subjects, the native speakers are completely bilingual.

For the 16 percent of Texas public school students who need English, dual language has delivered fluency. The families of English-speaking children might see dual language as just a luxury.

They shouldn't, though. To students around the world, the very act of learning a second language hones their cognitive edge, and language skills are a competitive tool. Praise should go to Texas legislators, of both parties, who refuse to see our children left behind.

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