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Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Feb 6 14:56:29 UTC 2006

Forwarded from The American Daily

Is a Bilingual Society a School Mandate?
By Nancy Salvato (02/05/06)

Recently, Creole, Massachusetts State Representative Marie St. Fleur
summarized the paramount predicament inherent in just about all policy
debate regarding Immersion versus Bilingual Education. "We need to
redefine what we're trying to do. It's not the school system's
responsibility or obligation that every child maintains fluency in their
native tongue."1 Representative St. Fleur is absolutely correct in her
assessment because, historically, bilingualism has not been a school
directive. The question that must be answered at this juncture is whether
or not it should be and how this is best accomplished in the individual

No one would disagree that students from immigrant families should become
fluent in the nation's dominant language, which is English. Many argue,
however, that there is value in creating a multilingual citizenry. As a
matter of fact, President Bush believes this is a matter of American
security. He recently, launched the National Security Language Initiative,
designed to expand Americans' knowledge of critical foreign languages such
as Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi and Farsi. 2 He realizes that it is in
our best interest to have intelligence officers who can understand those
who communicate in these languages. Certainly, it is of great value to
understand Spanish, as well, because we are bordered by a Spanish speaking
people and we must be able to understand each other, especially if we are
to cooperate on matters of national interest.

So, the argument isnt really about whether Bilingual or Immersion
education programs work better. According to Arizona State Universitys
Jeff MacSwan, Associate Professor of Language and Literacy, Decisions
about whether to put students in bilingual or immersion programs are best
made at the district level with parental involvement. 3 It is his finding
that, "Good conscientious educators can succeed in either model."4 That
being said, what is the best and most efficient way to accomplish the goal
of learning English? There are a number of considerations which must be
addressed. According to Laura Wittmann, an ESL coordinator in Bangor,
Maine, Determining whether students need ESL services and what type
depends on a number of factors, including their age, the amount of English
they know, their ability to read and write in their own language, and how
well they've done in school in their native country.5 In other words, what
works best for one English learner isnt necessarily what works best for
all English learners. This is because immigrants arrive in this country
with a wide range of skills and backgrounds.

In a speech to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, House Speaker Tom
Craddick expressed concern that once a program is implemented, there must
be ways to hold schools accountable for ensuring that English learners are
progressing toward English proficiency.6 Additional problems result from
not having enough bilingual teachers for English learners. A 2005 report
by The Urban Institute concludes that in terms of resources, "the shortage
of teachers in High-LEP (limited English proficient) schools with
experience, adequate academic preparation, and appropriate credentials
poses the most significant problem for LEP students."7 Don Soifer, of the
Lexington Institute has found that ineffective bilingual programs can
segregate students who are unable to exit the program. Another problem
occurs when within these programs there is a greater emphasis on
multicultural studies than teaching students to read and write in

Good school districts have begun investigating proven ways to best educate
students in learning English. In some cases, schools are considering dual
language programs, which mix native English-speaking students with those
learning the language. Students in these programs learn a second language
and a second culture. Instruction is given in both English and another
language, so students in the program learn the curriculum in two

Illinois Wheeling Elementary School District 21 has begun investigating
all the variables which must be considered before committing to dual
language to replace any or all of their current bilingual education
programs in Spanish, Russian and Polish. According to Rosemary Meyer, the
director of bilingual and English as a second language education, "There
are a lot of big questions to answer, mainly, can we do it and can we do
it well."10 According to studies, both groups of students benefit from
dual language programs. "The key is having an effective program. You can't
just put it in place and immediately see results," said Ellen Clark,
School Board president. 11 A huge consideration is the cost to implement
the program.

IL District 54 uses four English/Spanish and one English/Japanese dual
language program in five of its schools. The program is optional but there
is a waiting list every year. There is no need to transition, Out of the
dual language program, since all the students are supposed to be learning
the exact same material as their peers, according to Terri McHugh,
District 54 spokeswoman.12 Most students remain in the program until high

In Texas, the State Board of Education wants to learn more about Immersion
and "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."13 To
be fair, they want to hear from Supporters of bilingual education from
Texas and California, as well.14

Regardless of what method of instruction schools decide to implement, what
must be considered are the needs of the particular students, the costs,
and whether or not there are qualified teachers available to ensure that
the program is working. Schools must be held accountable for providing
adequate instruction in any subject. It is the administrations and the
school boards responsibility to ensure that the necessary components for
the success of any program are in place. Only then will the needs of all
students be addressed.

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