Bilingual ed opponents cast an eye toward Texas

Aurolyn Luykx aurolynluykx at
Thu Feb 2 19:05:48 UTC 2006 -- | Section: Houston &

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

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.

janet.elliott at

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