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Out With the Old and In With What Really Works

Bilingual education has long been a controversial issue. In 1968, the intensity of the debate increased when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) into law and politicians started taking sides. Title VII was written to encourage schools to implement bilingual programs. In general, Democrats believe that it is the government and schools responsibility to help immigrants to retain their native language and culture as well as teach them English proficiency.

Republicans, on the other hand, usually agree that the only responsibility of the government and schools is to teach limited English proficient (LEP) students English as quickly as possible. But what exactly is bilingual education? By definition bilingual education is: instruction for those who do not speak English, by teachers who use the students native language at least part of the day (Worsnap 3).

Linda Chavez, the president of the Center for Equal Opportunity has said, With 20 million immigrants now living in our country, its more important than ever to teach newcomers to think of themselves as Americans if we hope to remain one people and not simply a conglomeration of different groups. And one of the most effective ways of forging that sense of unity is through a common language. With that in mind, it seems that the most significant problem surrounding bilingual education is that the current approaches take longer than the government approved two to three years to teach immigrant students English.

Although many bilingual education studies tend to contradict one another, there is an abundance of evidence to support one particular approach for teaching LEP students English. I believe the problem with bilingual education can be solved by using ESL (English as a Second Language) in place of the bilingual programs most commonly used in schools. In America today, Transitional bilingual education (TBE) is the most common approach for teaching immigrants English in our schools.

TBE teaches subjects such as math and science in the LEP students native language and teaches reading in both languages until students gain enough English proficiency to be moved into mainstream classes (Worsnap 4). The majority of elementary school programs have as their goal exiting a student after 3 years, says Christine Rossell, a professor of political science at Boston University and co-author of Bilingual Education Reform in Massachusetts. But these programs also allow students to stay in the program longer than three years .

Indeed, many children stay in a bilingual program throughout their elementary school career (Rossell 19). In contrast to TBE, ESL is an immersion program where LEP students are in a regular classroom the majority of the day, but are pulled out of class for one or two periods for English-intensive instruction (Rossell 19). I believe that ESL is the best solution because it teaches LEP students English faster, it does not spend time trying to retain the students native language, and it would most likely cost taxpayers less money.

The main reason I see ESL as the most promising alternative to the fiasco of bilingual education is because studies show that LEP students learn English much faster through this program. According to Keith Baker, an independent social science consultant, One study using a nationally representative sample of over 300 programs of LEPs, found that depending on the type of program, the average length of time that students were in a special program for LEP’s was 2. 6 to 3. 5 years. This study also showed that students remained longer in programs as the use of Spanish increased in their program (Baker 30).

In addition, Rosalie Pedalino Porter, author of Forked Tongue: The Politics of Bilingual Education states that, [it will not surprise] anyone to learn that at all grade levels students in ESL classrooms exited faster than those served in bilingual classrooms. She continues, Most students in the ESL program were out of it in two to three years, while most students in bilingual classes took four to seven years to move into regular classrooms (Porter 35). We have spent 25 years using an approach that originally promised results in two to three years, but instead it has become a long-term Spanish development program (Peterson 81).

Common sense tells us that it is time to go back to a proven approach like ESL for more rapid results in attaining the main goal of bilingual education  English proficiency. Another reason ESL is more efficient at teaching English to LEP students is because ESL does not spend time teaching students their native language. Currently with Transitional bilingual education (TBE), if a child is starting school in America between the ages of five and eight years old, and they have not learned to read, they are first taught to read in Spanish before English is even introduced (Rossell 19).

This process wastes so much time, when students could be learning English from the very beginning. Many complaints over TBE are documented and are similar to the following: We have been using native-language teaching for our LEP kids for eight, 10, or 12 years, with bilingual teachers and textbooks, but it is working very poorly. Our students are not learning English for years, and they get discouraged and drop out of school. [ . . . ] (Porter 36). A recent survey of 1000 Elementary and Secondary teachers found that 64 percent disapproved of bilingual education programs and favored English-intensive instruction instead (Roth 14).

Also a study by the Educational Testing Service for the US Department of Education found that a majority of Hispanic parents oppose native-language instruction especially if it means less time spent on English instruction (Peterson 80). Advocates of bilingual education claim that children need to be taught in their native-language because of self-esteem, Sally Peterson, an English language teacher for over 30 years, has stated. But there is no evidence that bilingual education has an impact on a students self-worth.

Why, after 25 years, cant its advocates silence their critics with overwhelming proof that native-language instruction works? They cannot, she continues, because the proof does not exist (Peterson 79). When the effort to maintain native-language is removed from bilingual education, what is left is an ESL program, a more efficient English-teaching technique. The third reason I support ESL for teaching LEP students English is because it is more cost effective. When schools use ESL programs, there is no need for teachers who are fluent in more than one language or for instruction books printed in various languages.

That fact alone could save taxpayers millions of dollars that are currently being wasted on bilingual education programs. We dont even speak Spanish at home, says Miguel Alvarado of Sun Valley, CA, yet his 8-year-old daughter was placed in a bilingual classroom simply because he was bilingual (Chavez 10). This story is told over and over by parents whose children are placed in bilingual education classes without their knowledge or consent. And of course government funds continue to pay for these students who dont even need bilingual education.

Additionally, with the growing number of immigrants coming to this country, the resources needed to meet the goals of long-term bilingual education do not exist (Peterson 83). If the government instituted a two to three year maximum for funding of LEP programs, the clear choice would be ESL. Opponents of ESL have many arguments in favor of bilingual education, but the one I find the most preposterous is that the government and schools are responsible to help LEP students retain their native-language.

Miguel Alvarado, who has three children in the public school system said, [in this country, at least], Spanish speaking parents can provide all the Spanish practice needed at home (Alvarado 96). The overwhelming majority of immigrants believe that it is familys duty  not the schools  to help children maintain the native language (Roth 12). Supporters of bilingual education also say that they no longer want immigrants to lose their culture, that we have a responsibility to nurture their cultural heritage (Roth 16). We do have that responsibility  individually, Rep. Tony Roth, R-Wis. says.

All of us have a personal duty to maintain our heritage and preserve our culture. But we have a civic duty to learn and become fluent in the language of the land, so that we can participate to the fullest extent possible in American society (Roth 16). If parents want their kids to know about their own culture, Mr. Alvarado has said, then these parents should get up and do something about it. [ . . . ]. It is not the responsibility of the government to preserve an individuals heritage and culture, but rather to preserve a common language so that its citizens can communicate and interact (Roth 16).

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