Thursday, February 02, 2006

Update on the bilingual education debate in Texas

Here is an update on the bilingual education debate in Texas, including a message from Dr. George Blanco. -Angela

Hi, all: Martha asked me to encourage as many people as possible to attend a critical meeting of the State Board of Education which will begin discussions on replacing the bilingual education program with structured immersion. The discussion will center around a document written by Kelly Torrance of the Lexington Institute. I'm attaching a copy, but you may also download the document at:

We are organizing as many supporters of bilingual education from around the state as possible to speak in favor of bilingual education. I'm attaching a copy of the procedure for signing up. The sign-up period: Friday Feb. 3 - Monday Feb. 6, and it can be done by phone. (Note: See procedure for signing up below. -Angela)

Please pass this along to as many supporters as possible.



Hello, fellow supporters of Bilingual Education. We would like to share
the following information about the upcoming State Board of Education
meeting scheduled for 9:00 a.m. on February 9th.

    -- The meeting is set to start at 9:00 a.m. in the William B. Travis
    building at 1701 N. Congress. The meeting will take place on the first
    floor in room 1-104.

    --The discussion on English immersion programs is Item 3 on the agenda.
    The discussion on English immersion programs is Item 3 on the agenda.

    --Community members wishing to share their testimony may register by
    calling Terry Taylor at (512) 463-9007. Sign-up starts February 3
    through Monday, February 6th

    --Time for an individual testimony may not exceed three minutes.

    --Those providing testimonials will need to provide the board with 35
    copies of their written testimony.

    --Organizations are encouraged to register no more than two speakers.

    --Signs are allowed in the board meeting room as long as they are not

    --We are in the process of creating buttons for participants who are in
    support of bilingual education to wear.

    •The agenda can be viewed at the following website:

Jan. 31, 2006, 11:00PM
Bilingual classes to get second look
Texas education officials are ready to hear pros and cons of English immersion

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

AUSTIN - The State Board of Education will consider the controversial topic of English-immersion instruction as an alternative to the state's bilingual programs at its meeting next week.

The board has invited a California school superintendent and a representative of a conservative East Coast think tank to speak Feb. 9, opening a debate that could extend to the Legislature.

In traditional bilingual classes, students are taught in their native languages while they are learning English. In immersion programs, the students receive all or most of their instruction in English.

Immersion advocates say the program takes advantage of the ability of young students' brains to readily absorb a new language. In some states, students have achieved proficiency more quickly through immersion, but other studies have found the programs don't live up to their billing.

"We're not out to undo years and years of what we've done," said board member Gail Lowe, who initiated the presentation. "But it's incumbent on us to be informed about successful programs."

The board has invited Don Soifer, vice president of the Lexington Institute of Arlington, Va. The public policy group believes in limited government and market-based solutions to public policy challenges.

Also scheduled to speak is Kenneth Noonan, superintendent of the school district in Oceanside, Calif., about 30 miles north of San Diego.

Noonan also is vice chairman of California's State Board of Education.

California's 1-year rule

In 1998, California voters passed a proposition that requires students who are not proficient in English to spend at least one year in a structured English-immersion classroom.

Board Chairwoman Geraldine Miller, R-Dallas, said in a letter to Soifer that the board wants to learn about "ways we as state policymakers can encourage school districts within Texas to move into this model of successful instruction to enable non-English speakers to close the achievement gap more effectively."

Miller said the board is inviting key legislative staffers to attend the session so they might become better-informed about immersion.

Supporters of bilingual education from Texas and California also will address the board.

Board member Joe Bernal, D-San Antonio, credits Texas bilingual programs for helping improve achievement of minority students when compared with similar students in other states.

"We have developed a program with a lot of accountability," said Bernal.

But House Speaker Tom Craddick said last month in a speech to the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation that there needs to be more accountability to make sure students are progressing toward English proficiency.

School districts that have 20 or more students in the same grade who are classified as having limited English skills are required by state law to offer bilingual education. Districts often have problems finding enough bilingual teachers for those students.

Though districts get more money for bilingual students, educators say it isn't enough to help those students catch up. Those students are at high risk of dropping out.

Soifer said bilingual programs segregate students and often put more emphasis on multicultural studies than on teaching students to read and write in English.

Arizona's disappointment

Jeff MacSwan, an associate professor of language and literacy at Arizona State University, said Arizona's experience with English immersion has been dismal.

He found that after a year of English immersion, 11 percent of students he studied had become proficient in the language.

MacSwan said decisions about whether to put students in bilingual or immersion programs are best made at the district level with parental involvement.

"Good conscientious educators can succeed in either model," MacSwan said.

This article is:


I Believed That Bilingual Education Was Best . . . Until The Kids Proved Me Wrong"
Ken Noonan, Washington Post,
Sunday, September 3, 2000

Ivan, a second-grader, sat next to me with a children's book of literature in his lap.Methodically, he ran his index finger along the lines of print and pronounced the words aloud almost flawlessly. Patiently, wanting to finish his assignment, he tolerated my questions designed to test his understanding of what he had read. He
understood everything.

"So what?" you may think. Shouldn't second-graders be able to read at grade level? But Ivan, the son of Mexican immigrants, had come to school not quite two years earlier, able to speak and understand only Spanish. The book he was reading and my questions were all in English.

For 30 years, I worked hard to promote bilingual education as the best way for children like Ivan to become academically successful. Two years ago, I campaigned against California's Proposition 227, the ballot measure to eliminate bilingual education, because I believed that it was going to harm Spanish-speaking students. I was certain that students would be confused in English-only instruction and would be lost in the shuffle. I now realize I was wrong.

In June 1998, 61 percent of California voters approved 227, which requires that all students be taught "overwhelmingly" in English and that children who are not proficient in English be taught for at least one year in a structured English-immersion classroom before being assigned to a mainstream class.

Two months later, we began the school year with all classes taught in English. I was nervous, certain that it was going to be a disaster. Since then, however, I've watched Ivan and other recent immigrant children in my district learn to speak and read English faster than I ever thought possible. As a result, I've become convinced that English immersion, not traditional bilingual education, is the path to academic success for children who arrive in our classrooms unable to learn in English.

Even before 227, I had begun to question the effectiveness of traditional bilingual education, in which limited speakers of English are assigned to a class where they learn to speak, read and write in their home language first. In Oceanside, which is 35 miles north of San Diego, that language is Spanish. Until 1998, a student would remain in Spanish instruction for up to four years, even longer for some. Only after being designated fluent in English would a child's learning in English begin in earnest.

As a former bilingual teacher, administrator, and co-founder of the California Association of Bilingual Educators, I had come to believe that many students remained too long in classes conducted in Spanish, and that, as a result, they lost ground in the development of their English language skills. I believe that this creates a learning gap that is seldom closed.

On my recommendation, the Oceanside School Board adopted a bilingual program reform that would have moved most students from Spanish to English within three years. But before we could implement that change, 227 was passed. At first, I resisted. I tried very way I could to find some way to preserve bilingual instruction. But I could not, I learned after consulting with the school district's lawyers. In the end, we had no choice but to implement 227 fully and immediately. Reluctantly, I made preparations.

At the end of the first year, I was amazed by the results. State tests showed dramatic academic gains for Spanish-speaking students in reading and writing--especially in the early grades, where we had reduced class size to 20 or fewer students and implemented phonics reading instruction. Those changes seemed to have made a difference.

But Proposition 227 has been the catalyst for the dramatic changes in student achievement. Without 227, we would have been teaching these students in Spanish; they would certainly have performed poorly on the state tests, which are administered in English. And we never would have seen how quickly and how early they could learn to read English.

Consider this: Two years ago, limited-English second-graders in Oceanside scored at the 13th percentile on a scale of 100. This year, at the same grade, limited-English students scored at the 32nd percentile. A significant difference, I believe, is that these students had been taught only in English.

Skeptics claim that Oceanside's scores are so low that they offer scant proof that English immersion works better than bilingual instruction. Oceanside, with 22,000 students in 24 schools, was the lowest- scoring school district in San Diego County for many years. But that is no longer true. The test results of Spanish-speaking students in other districts have risen as well, but at the primary level, no district has seen increases as dramatic as Oceanside's. For the first time, more than half of our schools are at or above the national average in some categories. In reading, our second grade limited-English students' test scores were almost 40 percentage points below the national average two years ago. Today, they are only 18 points from the national average.

Critics say that 227 is unclear in its description of how students should be taught. Not so, in my opinion. Simply stated, it requires that all students be taught in English. Parents may request a waiver that would allow them to move their children to a bilingual program. As part of their request, they must list the educational or emotional problems that English immersion would cause their children. The waiver must be approved unless the school staff thinks that it would not be in the child's best interest. A child must spend at least one month in the immersion class before a waiver request can be considered. The district must form a bilingual class when there are 20 or more students with approved waivers at one grade level.

I grew up in Montebello, Calif., in a family where both sides are descended from Irish and Mexican immigrants. My parents, several of my grandparents, my great-grandparents, and all of my aunts and uncles were bilingual in English and Spanish. My
sisters and I grew up using both languages interchangeably with our extended family. As a result, I deeply valued bilingualism. And I believed that bilingual education was the best way to achieve this, by preserving the child's native language while teaching him English. That's why I originally opposed 227 as misguided and drastic.

But I was wrong on two counts. First, 227 did not cause the sky to fall in. The children, for the most part, are learning quickly and well. Second, I was wrong in believing that teaching limited- English students to read first in Spanish and later, sometimes much later, in English, would deliver on our promise of academic success. In fact, I have come to believe that transitioning limited-English students to English well after their peers puts those students at an academic disadvantage when it comes to choosing the most challenging courses in high school and college.

Soon after Oceanside schools implemented English-immersion instruction, I was invited to speak with some Hispanic students at our local community college about the new approach. I was criticized and castigated by most of the students, all of whom were advocates of bilingual instruction. I explained my concern about the achievement gap that appears to develop between native English speakers and limited-English speakers who are taught to read, write and speak Spanish in school first. Two female students said little, but after the meeting adjourned they asked to speak with me privately. We found an empty classroom, and they began to question me about my "gap" theory. I made clear that this was merely my opinion and that little research had been done to support my belief.

An awkward silence followed. Finally one, then the other, spoke. Each, they explained, had come to the United States as the children of Spanish-speaking immigrants, and they had been in bilingual classes in two different school districts (one in Oceanside). Both said they felt less proficient in English than their native English-speaking peers in high school and were struggling in college. They had enjoyed being taught in Spanish in public schools, but both now believed that they had paid a price for the comfort of early Spanish instruction.

They asked me if English immersion would help other students like them. I confessed that I did not know. They apologized for the behavior of their classmates, and we said our goodbyes.

That was two years ago. Now I am convinced that English immersion does work and that it should begin on a student's first day of school. Now I believe that English immersion may be able to reduce or eliminate that gap in achievement. Now I believe that using all of the resources of public education to move these students into the English-speaking mainstream early and quickly is far more important than my former romantic notions that preserving the child's home language should be theultimate goal of our schools.

Ken Noonan is superintendent of schools in
Oceanside, Calif.


  1. I went to school in a bilingual school and I feel that it is unfair to let individuals graudate without knowing English and that happens to many times that someone will receive their high school dipolma without knowing basic english.

  2. I wish I could get up there, but here's a suggestion based on the experiences in California:

    I recommend reading this excellent essay written by Jim Cummins in 1998, when Unz was doing his first campaign against bilingual ed with distorted claims about "the research" (Rossell and Baker)

    Here's the url, and it's archived in Jim Crawford's Language Policy website

    This essay would be most useful if you focus on the middle part, where Jim talks about the distortions and falsifications of research as practiced by the anti-bilingual crowd: all the comparing of apples to oranges and the mislabeling of programs so they appear to be their own opposites, etc If you're going to speak at the hearing, I think it's imperative that you prepare to counter the distortions and lies that will be advanced by the anti-bilingual academics and "intellectuals." Given the way that speakers' lists at such hearings are put together, you may find yourself coming up right behind a demagogic liar, in which case you may need to deflate his argument right at the start of your turn with a dose of the truth. I think a study of Cummins' article will help you to see how they usually distort things so that you can put together a few "sound bites" to counterpunch. Mostly, these anti-bilingual fanatics are racist and chauvinist, but not all that clever. They are used to controlling the stage and the microphone (ala Bill O'Reilly), and they can't really stand up in a fair debate against somebody who knows the topic and who is determined to get out the truth.

    One big lesson from California: don't let yourself get caught defending bad "bilingual" programs. Before Prop 227, there were an awful lot of subtractive and poorly run programs that were labeled "bilingual" During his campaigning, Unz was clever enough to use such programs as the straw man argument (a favorite right wing tactic) to denigrate the whole idea of bilingual education. He even got away (often) with mislabeling ESL programs as "bilingual" because many bilingual ed advocates failed to openly defend bilingual education, or to educate the public about what it should look like. Therefore, whatever else you are going to say, please be sure to take ten seconds to say something like, "I must make it clear that real bilingual education uses the L1 to develop the children's intellectual power by teaching the grade level curricula, and it builds a strong academic vocabulary in the native language that develops the learning of academic English, which is the language that will get them into college. Any program that does NOT do this is not bilingual education."

    Hope this helps,

    Pete Farruggio

  3. I think such an education has to be realized! has a set of advantages and disadvantages of bilingualism!

  4. Students have a very active style of life, thus frequently sacrificing long and deep sleep, no wonder, many of them are easy to see taking a nap even during a lecture? But they have an excuse which you can find out here