Bilingual debate has Texas Twang

Most Texans oppose method that takes years

A majority of Texans opposes the multiyear approach used by the state’s public schools to teach English to children from families that speak a different language, according to a Houston Chronicle poll.

Twenty-seven percent of the 801 Texans interviewed by telephone said students who do not speak English should get no more than a year of bilingual instruction before being placed in English-only classes. Another 25 percent said the children should be placed in English-only classes immediately.

The combined 52 percent overshadows the 38 percent who favored bilingual
education that takes three years or longer.

Ten percent were undecided. The poll has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

About an eighth of Texas’ 3.8 million public school students – including a fourth of the Houston school district’s 211,000 students – are enrolled in bilingual programs designed to last three or more years or in related “English as a Second Language” programs.

Almost all of those students are Hispanic. The program is designed to teach Spanish-speaking children basic subjects in their first language while mastering English gradually.

California voters will decide June 2 whether to junk long-term bilingual
education in favor of one-year “immersion” classes. The issue is not up for a decision by Texas voters.

Texans are split virtually down the middle on the general value of long-term bilingual education, according to the poll.

Forty-eight percent said long-term bilingual education should be eliminated because it slows children’s transition to mainstream American life and because they can easily learn a new language.

Forty-four percent agreed with the opposite statement that long-term bilingual education should be retained because non-English-speaking children need to learn basic skills in their “native language” and because it helps their transition to mainstream American life.

The remaining 8 percent were undecided.

One of the respondents was Kimberly, a 31-year-old investment analyst in San Antonio who said she started English-only classes in California in the 1970s after being raised by parents who spoke Italian and German at home.

The woman, who did not want her last name published, said that experience persuaded her that all students should be taught in English immediately.

Victor Gonzales, a 41-year-old construction worker in El Paso, said he helps his children learn English and Spanish and that bilingual education should be preserved because everyone should be fluent in more than one language.

Gonzales, a U.S. citizen born in Juarez, Mexico, added that bilingual
education “is very good because it helps the Mexican culture we have.”

A quarter of those surveyed identified themselves as Hispanics. A fifth of all surveyed Texans live in the Houston area.

Among Hispanics, 60 percent supported retaining long-term bilingual
education, compared to 38 percent of whites and 52 percent of blacks. The margin of error for each subgroup reaches 7.5 percentage points.

The response of Hispanics was diffuse on the more specific question of how long bilingual education should take. Forty-four percent backed a program that takes three or more years, while a combined 48 percent reject the status quo: 31 percent said one year at most, and 17 percent said there should be no bilingual classes at all.

Similarly, none of three choices about the length of instruction drew a majority of whites or blacks in the survey.

The random telephone poll of 801 Texans was conducted May 17-18 by Blum and Weprin Associates Inc. of New York. About 50 of the interviews were conducted in Spanish.

In a surprise to the pollsters, the answers did not vary widely according to the respondents’ level of education, income, gender, whether they have children in public schools or whether they live in an urban area.

But age was a big factor. The older the respondent, the more likely they were to favor eliminating bilingual education completely. “Older Texans just are clearly of the mind that children should be immersed in English,” pollster Julie Weprin said.

Chronicle Poll: Bilingual education

Q: When do you think non-English speaking children should be placed in English-only classes?


Not sure/ no answer——-10 %. Placed in English-only classes immediately—-25 %. After three years of bilingual classes or even longer———38 %. After no more than one year of bilingual classes ——27 %.


Not sure/ no answer——-8 %. Placed in English only classes immediately—17 %. After three years of bilingual classes or even longer——44 %. After no more than one year of bilingual classes 31 %.

The poll of 801 adult Texans was conducted for the Houston Chronicle on May 17-18 by Blum & Weprin Associates Inc. of New York. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The margin of error for the Hispanic subgroup is plus or minus 7.5 percentage points.

GRAPHIC: Graph: Chronicle Poll: Bilingual Education (color, text); B.C. Oren/ Chronicle

TYPE: Series

NOTES: This is the second part of a two-day series exploring the political and educational debate abound bilingual education. Today: How it plays in Texas. Copyright 1998, Houston Chronicle.

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