A famous Hispanic educator’s stance on bilingual education has furrowed the brows of many Hispanic educators across the country.
Jaime Escalante, of Stand and Deliver fame, serves as the honorary chairman of the “English for the Children” organization, leading a California initiative that would pare down bilingual education to just one year for all of its students.
Proposition 227, to be considered by California voters this summer, has drawn the nation’s attention and revived the debate about bilingual education’s effectiveness.
Escalante’s endorsement of the plan has struck a sour note with many educators, including some who attended the recent National Association for Bilingual Education conference in Dallas. Some expressed surprise and concern that such a nationally recognized educator would align himself with the initiative, led by wealthy California businessman Ron Unz.
During one session, educators warned that if the measure passes in California, Unz will take his message on the road to share it with a national audience.
“If we defeat this now, then no other state will have to deal with it,” one critic said during the emotionally charged session.
The plan could find fertile ground in states like Texas with a similar high immigrant population, they warned.
“It’s kind of like El Nino. It’s coming your way,” said Jim Crawford, another Unz critic and a Washington-based author.
Gov. George W. Bush has not addressed the issue, but his spokeswoman said he favors conducting research that would measure the effectiveness of the bilingual education program in the state. He has worked to secure a research center to study the issue, said Karen Hughes, Bush’s spokeswoman.
“Bush’s take on this issue, as all education issues, is that we ought to base instruction on scientific research and results,” she said. “We are hoping to attract a center that would research the effectiveness of bilingual education. He supports programs which teach children to read and learn to speak English because English is the key to success in this country. “
The bilingual research center would be a useful research tool, much like the Center for Academic and Reading Skills in Houston, which has studied and reported that phonics is an “important ingredient in teaching children to read,” Hughes said.
Escalante is in favor of the California plan because something must be done to improve the present flawed program, he said. He has withstood biting criticism for his stance and remains unfazed because he just wants what’s best for students, the Bolivian said.
“Many people think because I’m Hispanic I’m supposed to be with them and I’m supposed to be 100 percent with bilingual education,” said the instructor, reached by phone at Sacramento’s Johnson High School, where he now teaches. “The main point is to see what we can do to improve education and what we can do to prepare these kids to go to college and become professionals. “
Escalante said he cannot devote as much time as he would like to the Unz movement because his students constitute his first priority.
He decided to back the initiative based on his own experiences as a longtime educator, saying that the longer students remain in bilingual education, the more they tend to lag behind other students.
“By the time these kids get to the eighth grade, they are more than two years behind” other students, he said.
He went on to say that the principal at Garfield High School, where he taught previously for many years, did away with vocational programs like auto shop and replaced them with courses emphasizing English.
Escalante credits the action for its students passing the advanced placement test in record numbers, and “that is when our dynasty began at Garfield High School. “
He said that English should be emphasized and that students must integrate into the U.S. society because the less time a student spends in the bilingual education curriculum, the better.
Next year, bilingual education students in Fort Worth will spend one less year in the program because of recently implemented changes.
Superintendent Thomas Tocco’s plan strives to prepare students for instruction in English by the end of third grade if they entered the school district at kindergarten.
Students who enter later would be assigned to a language center.
Bilingual instruction would thus be cut off at the fourth-grade level and its teachers reassigned to lower grade levels.
Although not similar to the California proposition, Tocco’s plan to restructure bilingual education was initially met with similarly raised eyebrows and mixed emotions from teachers in the district.
Once bilingual teachers’ groups meet with Tocco to discuss his plan at length, they were reassured that he did not propose to dismantle the program entirely.
Juanita Silva, interim director for bilingual education, said previously that California’s loss in bilingual teachers should the initiative pass could be Fort Worth’s gain. The school district conducted heavy recruiting during the NABE convention to fill more than a dozen bilingual teaching positions.
The school district is offering $ 5,200 bonuses and stipends for bilingual teachers who sign contracts before June 1.
Rosanna Ruiz writes for the Star-Telegram ‘s Spanish-language publication, La Estrella, where this article first appeared. Staff writer Michelle Melendez contributed to this article.