Education in English

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Sep 10 15:19:33 UTC 2005

>>From Accuracy in Media

Education in English Please!
By Steve Lilienthal    September 9, 2005

Few high school principals would have time to become fluent in Spanish if
they were spending their time managing their schools.  The Board of
Trustees of the Dallas Independent School District (DISD)  voted 5-4 last
month to require that some school administrators must be fluent in Spanish
or lose their jobs. Advocates of English as the primary language of our
country took exception to the new policy proposed in May. Mauro E. Mujica,
Chairman of U.S. English, argued that the DISD Board instead should
emphasize teaching Hispanic parents basic English, the most important
skill needed to advance in this country. Mujica is no immigrant basher,
having immigrated to the United States from his native Chile. He is fluent
in four languages. U.S. English argued that the DISD mandate ignored the
fact that some students in the school district, or their parents, are
foreign born but not Hispanic. Some Dallas residents were born in Korea
and Vietnam. The DISD Board of Trustees has not required that school
administrators be fluent in Korean or Vietnamese.

Immigration is a hot-button issue in the United States. So are the
ancillary issues, such as that confronting the Dallas School System. The
new school policy is as a red flag is to a bull, inviting politicians and
community leaders to seek TV cameras so they can speak before television
cameras in support of, or opposition to, the Board decision. Immigrant
rights groups would be galvanized. So would some Americans who want more
restrictions on immigration. School Board Trustee Joe May proposed the new
policy. May argued that the requirement for school administrators to be
bilingual is needed. The policy would help DISD school administrators to
communicate with Spanish-speaking parents and get parents involved in
their children's education.

While this might sound impressive to some, Rossi Walter, President, the
Dallas Council of PTAs, criticized the proposal. Walter said, "I
understand the logic and the motivation, and I say that this is crazy[,]
as someone who is a pretty good language learner." The DALLAS MORNING NEWS
reported on August 8 that its editorial board found no existing "research
supporting the idea that a bilingual principal leads to greater parental
involvement." The newspaper was unwilling to take a stance on the
proposal, arguing that more study would be required.  Parental involvement
is desirable, the MORNING NEWS said.

The Dallas School District concluded in its June study that academic
performance did not differ significantly in schools with bilingual
principals and in schools without bilingual principals. One trustee
commented upon the study. "Requiring principals to speak another language
doesn't make any difference. . . . This appears on the surface a tactic to
get more Hispanic-speaking people in leadership positions." The advocacy
group ProEnglish is contemplating the filing of a lawsuit against the
School Board. ProEnglish works with the U.S. Congress and state referenda,
as well as in the courts to defend the role of English as our common

Dr. Rosalie Pedalino Porter (naturalized U.S. citizen, author and
education consultant), ProEnglish Board of Advisors, contends that DISD
policy is not sensible. She views the decision to be "window dressing."
Few high school principals would have time to become fluent in Spanish if
they were spending their time managing their schools. "You are not going
to get high school principals into a Spanish class for a couple of nights
a week and expect them to become fluent," Dr. Porter stressed. The DISD
policy would require that newly hired principals learn Spanish within one
year of their hiring and that they be fluent in Spanish within three years
or be terminated. The policy took effect last week and would apply to
schools in which over 50 percent of students were classified as Limited
English Proficient (LEP). The Superintendent would determine the fluency
level and Spanish classes would be provided for the principals.

Dr. Porter argues in favor of funding education that would improve the
English skills of non-English speaking parents and children. She
co-authored the "English Acquisition Program Cost Study" commissioned by
the Arizona Department of Education in 2001. The study compared levels of
academic achievement in elementary schools in Nogales, Arizona. Nogales
elementary schools with Structured English Immersion programs produced
higher test scores than Nagoles elementary schools with Bilingual
Education programs. The report stated: Although the report did not set out
to compare achievement levels across different programs, this is the main
finding that emerged from the study:  Elementary schools with English
Immersion teaching produced higher student test scores and tested a much
higher percentage of their [Limited English Proficiency] students than
schools using bilingual education methods. In fact, in the schools with
English Immersion programs, 100 percent of the students took the statewide
tests each year. The longer the English teaching program was in place, the
higher the achievement scores of students on the reading, language, and
math tests in English, a finding that is clearly documented in the
individual school profiles.

A report by Dr. Christine H. Rossell, a Boston University political
science professor, was published in Educational Leadership late last year.
Dr. Rossell observed that, ". . . schools that had dismantled bilingual
education showed a small but significant positive effect on reading and
math achievement." In her opinion students benefit from instruction in
English. Surprisingly, many foreign-born residents and naturalized
citizens of our country frown upon a school curriculum requiring bilingual
education. They reject such requirements for non-English speaking students
and would reject the bilingual policy for school administrators.

The Carnegie Corporation in Autumn 2002 surveyed 1,002 foreign-born
adults. Over 66% of the foreign-born adults agreed that immigrants to the
United States should be required to learn English. 73% of the foreign-born
adults interviewed said schools should eliminate bilingual education and
teach English to immigrants upon arrival in the United States. Over 60% of
the adults disapproved of bilingual teaching in the schools: all students
should be taught in English. Dr. Rossell opined that the Dallas School
District's new requirement would be quite difficult to execute. The DISD
policy would force school administrators to spend additional hours seeking
fluency in Spanish. She added that it would be difficult to recruit
qualified, committed school principals who would produce students who
tested well, particularly if the students were not proficient in English.
"The [B]oard," said Rossell, "is just shooting themselves in the foot."

Children of non-native Americans should learn English to succeed in
American society. Wise immigrants who want the best for their children
must, and often do, demand that their children be instructed in English.
Requiring Spanish fluency for principals might be good politics, helping
board members and candidates to gain the support of advocates and creating
a few more jobs for bilingual individuals. The DISD policy would not
guarantee that test scores would improve or that English literacy would
improve. The DISD policy could divert principals from their foremost job -
ensuring schools would run smoothly and achieve desired goals and
objectives. Forced Spanish instruction would condescend to immigrants,
saying parents and students from a Latin American background are not
sufficiently intelligent to learn English.

That is why several states  California, Arizona and Massachusetts  voted
to dismantle bilingual education programs. Students in English immersion
classes consistently proved mandatory bilingual education harmful. More
emphasis on English  as early as possible  is the best way to help
students with foreign-born parents to succeed in American society.

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