Texas: Editorial: Cure or crutch

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Tue Aug 1 14:22:47 UTC 2006


Editorial: Cure or crutch

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Last week, civil rights groups went to court to press the case that Texas
doesnt do enough to educate children who speak little English. The Mexican
American Legal Defense and Educational Fund MALDEF along with other
advocacy groups, appeared in federal court in Austin in a suit against the
Texas Education Agency. The courts role goes back to a 1971 case in which
Texas was ordered to help non- English speakers catch up with
English-speaking peers.

>>From such a directive, Texas adopted two approaches: (1) bilingual
education and (2) English as a second language, or ESL. Either of these
approaches ought to help students achieve. The MALDEF suit alleges that
ESL in many districts fails miserably. This clearly is a challenge for
every school district. The Waco Independent School District, with 15,000
students, has about 1,900 who need bilingual or ESL classes. Of course,
Spanish isnt the only foreign language with which it must contend. WISD
students speak roughly 50 different languages. (Lack of numbers precludes
bilingual classes for all but Spanish speakers.)

Though some forces want to treat bilingual classes as a bogeyman, the
evidence is convincing that students in quality bilingual classes do a
better job generally in meeting all the requirements of a balanced
education. After all, they learn various core subjects more easily in a
primary tongue than they would in a foreign tongue. The question: Do they
learn English sufficiently? On the other hand, in ESL, where teachers
generally speak English, students can fall behind English-speaking peers
on other subjects but possibly learn English faster by being immersed in

Only a small percentage of Wacos Spanish-speaking families opts out of
bilingual classes. When they do, theparents expressed concern is that
their children will not learn English. Though the concern may be
misplaced, WISD needs to take it seriously. To that end, WISD is exploring
a goal of dramatically weaning Spanish-speaking students from their native
language by second grade. WISD has bilingual through second grade on eight
elementary campuses. A big success story in bilingual education is
dual-language classes, in which English-speakers and Spanish-speakers have
been shown to coexist and thrive both groups emerging bilingual.

In ESL, more evidence is showing that so-called pull-out programs, in
which those with a language deficiency go to an ESL classroom for a set
period, do not do as well as when ESL teachers use the inclusion method
coming into the mainstreamed classroom and helping to clarify for those
with English deficiencies what the classroom teacher presents to all. The
less disruption for ESL students, the better. And of course, the more
emphasis on English, the better.


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