Texas: Bilingual Education Debate

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Jul 12 14:10:33 UTC 2007

*Bilingual education debate

Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

Must do our best for students

I read the Chronicle's July 9 article "Dual-language classes in Texas spark
debate" with frustration. No educator would support an instructional program
that would "minimize English as the primary language of this nation." The
point is that bilingual education is the instructional strategy proven to be
the most successful in bringing limited English proficient students to
academic achievement *in English. *An examination of the data, such as those
assembled by Virginia Collier, shows that LEP students who participate in
bilingual programs score higher on English achievement tests than LEP
students who participate in other programs. The only program that shows
greater success is dual language. Every dual-language program I have seen or
studied recruits volunteers for the English-speaking students. And most
programs have waiting lists. So how can these students be considered "guinea

The parents of these students are taking advantage of the opportunity for
their children to achieve academically in two languages. The Collier study
shows that their achievement in English does not suffer. It is true that LEP
students often show poor passing rates on the English TAKS. Remember, these
are math, science, history and reading tests — not language tests. Consider
taking your children to France and having them attend French schools. Would
you expect them to pass an algebra test administered in French at the same
rate as the French students? Or how about a test in French history? How many
years would you expect it to take your child to master academic content (in
French) at the same level as his French classmates?

Immigration is not a debate for educators. Our challenge and privilege is to
educate all students who come in our doors. Why not use the strategies that
have shown the greatest success? Educating students with special needs costs
more. But the cost of not doing our best for children is unacceptable.

*retired elementary school principal, Houston*

Why listen to teachers now?

The issue of dual-language classes is being decided by unqualified
politicians (i.e. state legislators) with the help of politically correct
consultants. What we teachers know is this: Students must be able to read to
be successful in school, and phonics is the only proven way to teach
effective reading skills.

Students learn reading skills best when they are taught to read phonetically
*in the language they use at home.* Students in grades 1 to 3 cannot help
each other because they have inadequate language skills to express
themselves. Combining languages in these grades will not have a synergistic
effect. In fact, the classes will probably fail to help either the English
speaking students or the Spanish speaking students because both will use
nonstandard grammatical constructs.

Conversely, combined language programs in grades 4 to 7 could work to the
benefit of both Spanish and English speaking students provided both groups
of students are well-grounded in proper grammar and reading skills in their
primary language.

But why listen to teachers? Education policy has been set for years by
ignoring their input.


Restoring old Texas tradition

Monday's Page One story called two-way immersion bilingual education an
"experiment." Actually, it's a tried and true method and an American and
Texas tradition.

Between the Civil War and World War I, a number of cities such as
Cincinnati, Cleveland and Indianapolis provided not just German instruction
in their public elementary schools, but divided their school day roughly
between English and German.

Kids in the German track in Cleveland got only 60 percent as much English
reading, grammar and spelling per week as kids in the English-only track.

But there were apparently no ill effects. Kids from the bilingual track had
higher passing rates on high school entrance exams (conducted entirely in
English), than those from English-only classes.

An Anglo principal from Cincinnati reported similar results.

San Antonio had a German-English school run on similar principles. Although
private, it was publicly subsidized.

In Texas in 1886, more than 4,400 kids were receiving German instruction in
public schools, compared to 3,000 in private or parochial schools. Not until
1905 did Texas law even require English as the medium of instruction. Though
less common, there were also instances of Polish, Italian and Czech being
taught in public elementary schools in some states.

We should congratulate our Legislature for House Bill 2814 and for restoring
an old Texas tradition.

*director of graduate studies, department of history, Texas A&M University,
College Station*

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