[lg policy] Romney Touts Role in Dismantling Bilingual Education in Mass.

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 6 15:19:20 UTC 2012

Romney Touts Role in Dismantling Bilingual Education in Mass.

By Lesli Maxwell on December 30, 2011 11:41 AM

ADDENDUM: A Learning the Language reader rightly suggested that I
should have mentioned some of the important research on bilingual
education vs. English immersion in this post on Mitt Romney. There's
the five-year study from the American Institutes of Research and
WestEd that came out in 2006 examining the effects of Proposition 227
(the California ballot initiative that sharply curtailed bilingual
education) on achievement. And a book published by the California
Department of Education last year that invited prominent scholars to
synthesize the best available research for how to improve achievement
for English-language learners.

The Iowa caucuses are just a few days away and Mitt Romney, at least
as of this morning, appears to be the frontrunner in the first contest
of the 2012 presidential nomination sweepstakes.

For those of you trying to make a decision about the GOP candidates
based on their education policies and philosophy, you can get a lot of
insight on Romney over at Politics K-12, where Alyson Klein details
the candidate's thinking about schooling by parsing a chapter from his
book "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness."
Campaign 2012

Two pages in that chapter get into Romney's view on bilingual
education vs. English immersion, which is interesting but not terribly

While he was governor of Massachusetts, Romney said he kept hearing
that students were graduating from high schools in his state without
being fluent in English. Those anecdotes were coming to him in the
months after Massachusetts voters had passed a ballot initiative to
curtail bilingual education in the state.

Astonished by this, the then-governor set about examining the state's
bilingual education programs and asking questions about their
effectiveness. He said the data were "scant" on whether bilingual
programs produced better outcomes for students than English immersion
programs. He picked up the phone and "called principals in
California," where bilingual education had mostly been replaced with
English immersion. The principals he talked to told him English
immersion was better for students learning the language.

His conclusion? That bilingual education in Massachusetts had become
little more than an employment program for bilingual teachers, who, he
asserts, could not speak English well themselves.

When Romney sought the GOP nomination four years ago, he was upfront
about his opposition to bilingual education and his support for ending
it in Massachusetts. But pages 204-205 in his book's chapter on
education tell us even more perhaps about the provenance of his

He writes that during a visit to a Boston elementary school, he was
stunned to discover that nearly all of the children enrolled in
bilingual courses were American-born, not foreign-born:

    At a student- body assembly, I asked how many youngsters were born
outside the United States. Only a few hands went up. Surprised, I
asked my next question: "How many of you are in bilingual education
classes?" This time, the great majority of hands shot skyward, and the
truth became obvious. Kids who were born in America, who watched
television in America and played video games in America--thoroughly
American kids--were being assigned to bilingual classes only to allow
bilingual teachers to keep their jobs. The result that these students
would be less fluent in English didn't seem to bother anybody!

Romney also says that immigrant parents he met favored English
immersion for their children and that school officials often ignored
their preference.

I don't anticipate that bilingual education vs. English immersion will
become a marquee issue in this election cycle. But as the number of
English-language learners in the United States continues to grow, it
could become a matter that the president, whoever he or she may be,
needs to weigh in on. And the best thing that could happen is for the
debate to be stripped of the politics that continue to hang over it so
that policymakers and educators could figure out what's truly best for
teaching the language.


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