Oregon: Forum highlights divergent views on state Measure 58

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Wed Oct 22 21:33:40 UTC 2008

Forum highlights divergent views on state Measure 58
By Terry Dillman Of the News-Times

Supporters call it a remedy for what they consider a failed system of
teaching English to immigrants and other English language learners.
Opponents deride it a "one-Sizemore-fits-all" mandate to learning
English for all students in all schools, regardless of ability.

Lincoln County Coastal Progressives wanted local voters to get a feel
for what Measure 58 - another ballot referendum with Bill Sizemore's
imprint on it - would mean from both sides of the issue. They
sponsored a facilitated community information forum Sunday afternoon
at Newport High School, which drew 35 participants to listen to and
converse with four panelists: Michael Boyer, an ESL (English as Second
Language) teacher at Taft High 7-12 School, and a member of the
Governor's Commission on Hispanic Affairs; Jorge Hernandez, director
of Centro de Ayuda in Lincoln County; Rick Hickey, vice president of
Oregonians for Immigration Reform and chair of English for the
Children-Oregon; and James Crawford, author, lecturer, and president
of the Institute for Language and Education Policy.

Consultant Douglas Meacham of Waldport facilitated the session.
Everyone agreed that every child in Oregon should learn English if
they hope to succeed in life in the United States. The fundamental
difference was in how to teach English to those who need, and usually
want to learn it. Measure 58 supporters say the use of the English
language is a common bond that makes America truly unique. The current
system for teaching English language learners, they note, fails too
many children. They point out that standardized testing is done in
English, requiring students to be proficient in English, so schools
should do everything to make sure students become proficient as
quickly as possible.

Opponents say state law already requires students to learn English,
and the measure fails to accommodate children with special language or
learning needs. For both sides, the real bottom line really is the
bottom line. Supporters say the measure would save money for school
districts, and prevent districts from keeping students in current
language programs just to receive the additional per student federal
funding. Opponents say the measure would hurt schools financially, but
most of all, would hurt the students themselves in terms of learning.

"Students will learn English much faster and succeed better" under the
provisions of the measure, said Hickey, noting that it would also cost
less for better results.

"The measure would eliminate bilingual education in Oregon. No such
law has ever passed in the United States," Crawford countered, noting
that it takes anywhere from one to seven years for children to acquire
a second language. "If you mainstream them before they're ready,
they'll fall behind. The notion behind this is obvious. It's to
shortchange immigrant children rather than provide them with what they
are allowed to have."

Boyer and Hernandez agreed.

"This takes away local control," said Boyer. "Our communities should
be the ones making these decisions based on what's best for our

Audience members chimed in during a post-forum question-and-answer session.

"Schools and school boards want the best programs for all students,"
said Billie Jo Smith, a former Lincoln County School District teacher
and former school board member now working with non-profit, grassroots
organization Stand for Children, one of the forum co-sponsors. "Why
would we want a law in our state that restricts us to a timeline and
particular kind of program, and limits us from using the best
research-based programs we can find for students?"

Paco Maribona, who emigrated from Cuba, spoke briefly about his
English immersion experience derived chiefly from his life
circumstances. He also offered some "last word" advice.

Maribona became proficient in English within two years and did well in
school as a result, but he noted that the pace of learning varies for
everyone, whether adults or children. "Being proficient in two
languages helped me in all subjects," he said. "But we now have a
global economy, and global cultural issues. If we want to compete and
not become a third world country - and we're on our way there - we
need to learn Chinese, learn Russian, learn Spanish, and have our kids
learn, too."

Terry Dillman is assistant editor of the News-Times. He can be reached
at (541) 265-8571 ext. 225, or terrydillman at newportnewstimes.com.


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