[lg policy] A Commentary and Three Books on Language Policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Mar 16 13:14:04 UTC 2010

A Commentary and Three Books on Language Policy
By Mary Ann Zehr on March 15, 2010 2:20 PM

A commentary published today at edweek.org and three books released in
the last few months all make the case that federal and state language
policies for education have a huge impact on both the English and
bilingual skills of young people over the long run. But they have
different prescriptions for what kind of language policies lead to
better acquisition of English. The commentary, by Rosemary Salomone, a
law professor at St. John's University School of Law, in New York
City, argues that the No Child Left Behind Act is an impediment to
supporting bilingualism among the nation's English-language learners.
She says that the education law's provision that holds schools
accountable for reclassifying students as fluent in English each year
leads them to ignore instruction in students' native languages and
move them "swiftly and exclusively toward English."

Salomone just had a book about language policy, True American,
published by Harvard University Press. In it, she contends that
bilingualism doesn't impede academic success.
A second book published this year that urges schools to support
bilingualism among English-language learners is Forbidden Language:
English Learners and Restrictive Language Policies, edited by Patricia
Gandara and Megan Hopkins and published by Teachers College Press. The
book provides research studies that show state policies in Arizona,
California, and Massachusetts restricting bilingual education have not
been successful in helping students to learn English.

Proponents of a restrictive language policy in Massachusetts, called
Question 2, "promised more rapid acquisition of English for
[English-learners] in Massachusetts and, with that, a rise in academic
achievement and a narrowing of the achievement gap," write several
researchers in a chapter on language education in that state. They say
that the results have actually been very different than that claim, as
pass rates for ELLs in Boston public schools declined on state math
and English tests. Also, the achievement gap between ELLs and students
in general education classes in Boston widened in both math and
English after the ballot measure that restricted bilingual education
was implemented.

Lastly, a new book by Rosalie Pedalino Porter, who campaigned to get
Question 2 passed by voters in Massachusetts, makes the argument that
the state improved the prospects of ELLs to acquire English by
curtailing bilingual education. Her book, American Immigrant: My Life
in Three Languages, published by iUniverse, a self-publishing company,
is mostly about her own experiences in this country as an immigrant
from Italy, but she does talk about her support for state policies
that restrict bilingual education. She writes that "for thirty years
the wrong-headed idea that children should be taught in two languages
had been the law in Massachusetts and several other states, in spite
of its poor results." She contends that the restrictive language
policies in California and Arizona have been successful. She faults
Massachusetts for not putting out a research report that looks at the
impact of Question 2 on English-language learners in that state. She
doesn't mention the research study that indicated ELLs in Boston
public schools fared worse after passage of the measure.

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