Dual-language classes in Texas stir debate

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Tue Jul 10 18:36:53 UTC 2007

July 9, 2007, 12:52PM
Dual-language classes in Texas stir debate
Supporters cite benefit of making students bilingual; critics say
English speakers to suffer

San Antonio Express-News


• House Bill 2814: Establishes a dual language education pilot program
to study the effectiveness of placing both native English and
non-English speaking students in the same classroom.

• Who's involved: The commissioner of education will choose up to 10
school districts and 30 schools to participate in the project.

• The first year: Limited to hiring and training teachers and
establishing parental and community support for the program.

• Following up: The Texas Education Agency must submit an interim
report to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2011, and a final report by Jan.
1, 2013. The reports must show the effect of the project on
grade-level completion rates and high school graduation rates.

Source: House Bill 2814
AUSTIN — Here's the plan: Put young children who struggle with English
in a classroom with English-speaking students and teach in two
languages. Soon, both groups of children will become bilingual and
bi-literate with the youngsters helping each other develop two
languages, say supporters of the dual language immersion program. But
others are balking at the experiment that Texas lawmakers approved
this spring, contending it's turning classrooms into laboratories.

With House Bill 2814, legislators created a six-year pilot program
that will test a dual language plan in up to 10 Texas public school
districts and 30 campuses. English was not the first language for more
than 731,000 children attending Texas public schools last year. Those
children, identified as "limited English proficient," spoke hundreds
of foreign languages, although Spanish was spoken by 92 percent. "We
know that dual language works, but we have failed to articulate the
benefits of placing native English speakers in dual language
programs," said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, sponsor of
the Senate version of the bill. "They will learn Spanish or some other
language, becoming bilingual and bi-literate. When they are little,
you can do that."

Learning multiple languages should always be encouraged, said Rep.
Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, although she opposes the pilot project
approach. "I think the purpose behind this is to help bring up to
speed Spanish-speaking kids and turning other kids into guinea pigs,"
she said. Seven of her own nine grandchildren are younger than 6, she
said: "They are grandchildren, not grand-guinea pigs." Children in her
suburban school district northwest of Houston speak more than 70
languages, Riddle said.

"I don't care what they are speaking," she said. "They are in America.
They need to master the English language. This is not a dual-language
country. We speak English in this country."

On the national stage
"The bottom line of life is that we don't all speak the same
language," House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The
Woodlands, said, acknowledging that national debate over immigration
has triggered deep-seated antagonism.
The Senate voted 28-2 for the pilot project, while the House approved
it 106-34. No Democrat opposed the bill.

Riddle said she fears the project will dilute the need to master English.

"I think we are worshipping at the feet of diversity," Riddle said.
"There's nothing wrong with diversity, but to minimize English as the
primary language of this nation is a mistake, and I think it's a
mistake for our kids. Kids need to master the English language,

The issue should not focus on immigration because the law requires
Texas to educate all children living here, said Jesse Romero, a San
Antonio-based legislative consultant for the Texas Association For
Bilingual Education.

"If they are going to be educated, let's do it the right way," Romero
said. "If we don't educate the children, we're not going to have a
viable work force, and if we don't have a viable and educated work
force, we're not going to be attractive to the economic development
that our state leaders continue to say that Texas is all about."

Eissler said opponents of his bill believe immigrants need to bend to
us rather than us to them.

But he views the issue in terms of education.

"The more you know, the better off you are is my theory of life. The
more we can teach our kids, the better off we're going to be," Eissler
said. "The younger you are, the more adept you are in learning another
language, so why do we wait to high school to teach language?"

A growing problem
Previous studies have shown that it costs about 40 percent more to
educate limited English students, although the state funds school
districts by an extra 10 percent to teach them.
Only 8 percent of limited English proficient 10th-graders passed all
parts of the state's assessment test in the 2005-06 school year,
according to the Texas Education Agency, and the number of limited
English proficient students is increasing. While about 16 percent of
all public school children last year were limited-English proficient,
more than one-fourth of first-graders struggled with English.

In the state's largest urban school districts — Houston, Dallas and
Fort Worth — more than 40 percent of first-graders were
limited-English proficient.

"These school districts do represent a growing statewide trend, and it
does pose a significant challenge to our educators," Van de Putte
said. "The reality is that the numbers are increasing. We can wring
our hands and say the federal government needs to take care of this.
But that doesn't help us with outcomes."

One success story
The success of dual language immersion programs has been evident in
Cedar Brook Elementary in the Spring Branch school district.
Preliminary results show the school will be ranked exemplary following
two years of recognized ratings after a federal grant allowing Cedar
Brook to test a dual language program.

About half the school's children are limited English proficient, said
Catherine Robinson, the former principal at Cedar Brook.

"Most Texans probably are not aware of the challenges facing educators
with large numbers of limited English proficient students," she said.

They must learn academic content in addition to a new language.

"When students are acquiring and differentiating a language — when the
language is a language other than English — then the challenge of
learning in an academically rigorous setting in English is substantial
for these students," said Robinson, who is now executive director of
Spring Branch's Teaching and Learning program, which develops
curriculum and instruction for struggling students.

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