Gov. William F. Weld’s second attempt to overhaul the state’s bilingual
education system was roundly blasted by teachers and administrators as a return to “English only” instruction.

No sooner had the governor finished talking about his plan when he was slammed for ignoring the report of a commission he appointed to study bilingual education in 1994.

“What the governor proposes to do is turn back the clock,” said Virginia Zanger, a Boston bilingual educator and a member of the commission. Under the governor’s plan “we’re guaranteeing a lot of children flipping burgers at McDonald’s because they’re not going to get their diplomas because they’ll get a watered-down education,” said Zanger.

Weld’s plan – the same proposal he offered in 1995 with minor changes – would try to restore “the temporary and transitional nature” of bilingual programs with a three-year cap on classes.

“Students often languish in these classes for far longer,” Weld said. “In doing so, they miss out on a higher quality education available in regular classes.”

In addition, Weld’s proposal would streamline evaluations, provide parents with greater input and require fluency in English for bilingual instructors.

Supporting Weld’s effort was Boston University politics professor Christine H. Rossell, who said her review of national studies found no significant gains from bilingual education.

In Massachusetts, there are 114,000 bilingual students and another 45,000 with limited English-speaking abilities, the Department of Education said.

Boston has the largest portion of bilingual students, with 22,610, followed by Lawrence, where 9,055 bilingual students account for 38 percent of the school population.

An ally on Weld’s side for reform has been Board of Education Chairman John Silber, who has called for similar policy changes he said would speed proficiency in English for more children.

Jack Sullivan contributed to this report.



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