Through superficial and inadequate coverage, the media are unwittingly fanning flames created by bilingual education opponents, two national experts on the issue said in Tucson.
“Journalism should not be confused with social science,” said James Crawford, a Washington, D.C.-based writer and former editor of the journal Education Week.
He said that, too often, the media rely on sound bites and anecdotes in reporting on bilingual education.
Crawford was joined by Stephen Krashen, a linguist and professor of education at the University of Southern California, to speak to about 150 educators and parents Friday at Wakefield Middle School, 101 W. 44th St.
Crawford said the media played a major role in handing out inaccurate information about bilingual education in California during the Unz initiative campaign, which sought to dismantle bilingual programs.
But Crawford said part of the reason journalists didn’t get it “right” in California was because proponents were evasive and did not always explain the issues to reporters.
“We did not provide an effective strategy,” he explained.
In June, California voters approved the initiative, also called Proposition 227, that effectively dismantles state-funded programs for bilingual education.
Crawford said many reporters in California and in other states are looking for the easy way out, instead of looking in detail at academic studies, which are often mentioned by proponents.
“Arguing by anecdote can be quite dangerous” because it is not always representative of a larger truth, he said.
Crawford said the press is also guilty of giving prominence to “man bites dog” stories.
He said California newspapers gave extensive coverage to a demonstration by Latino parents favoring the initiative at a Los Angeles school because of its novelty. But, dozens of protests by Latino parents against the initiative were under-covered by the press.
In Arizona, bilingual education backers should band together to better inform the public by providing more information to the media.
“(The media) deserve our help and encouragement,” Crawford said, adding that “being hostile” isn’t constructive.
He also encouraged proponents to meet with newspaper editorial boards and write opinion pieces and letters to the editor.
“The anti-bilingual side has learned to exploit this option,” he said.
Jean Favela, director of bilingual education for the Sunnyside Unified School District, agreed that proponents should “try to present all the facts” to the media.
“Unfortunately, opponents are focusing on quick, knee-jerk ideas,” she said.
Favela cited a recent example when the Arizona Department of Education released a report that found that only 2.7 percent of students in bilingual education programs actually leave them.
Opponents of bilingual education, including Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley millionaire who was behind the California initiative, often refer to this statistic as a failure of the program.
But Favela said this is misleading because the statistic doesn’t take into account all the children who may well be advanced in their English proficiency, but are not yet reclassified into mainstream, English-only classes.
“A lot of the bashing of bilingual education has more to do with power and politics. It’s not based on pedagogy,” she said.
USC bilingual expert Krashen, who outlined nine “bogus” arguments against bilingual education, said opponents accuse bilingual programs of keeping children from learning English.
“I am not in favor of an all-Spanish-speaking Arizona,” Krashen countered. “The goal is (to teach) English.”
“I firmly accept the goals of groups who support English,” but those groups different methods than his of getting there, he added.
Davis Bilingual Magnet Elementary School Principal Guadalupe Romero said reporters should dig deeper and visit more classrooms for firsthand evidence.
About 80 percent of students at Davis, 500 W. St. Mary’s Road, are either English-dominant or speak only English, she said.
Romero said opponents aren’t looking at ways to improve education as a whole.
“I think we need to make education better for all children,” she said.
Romero said if a program isn’t working perfectly, it should be improved, not dismantled.