SALEM, Ore.—Two Republican lawmakers have floated proposals to scrap bilingual education in Oregon public schools, hoping to stimulate debate about how immigrant youth are taught.
Under the bills sponsored by Rep. Cliff Zauner of Woodburn and Sen. Charles Starr of Hillsboro, schools would no longer offer students part-time instruction in their native languages. Bilingual education is intended to help non-native English speakers become more fluent and keep up in other subjects as they gradually transition to full-time use of English.
“The quicker they learn English, the better off they are. This will help them in their grades and testing,” Zauner said.
Bilingual education is a “waste of money,” Starr said. “I think we have scarce resources and we should invest those in programs that produce the greatest benefit for the greatest numbers.”
Critics of the proposals say Oregon needs more bilingual education, not less.
“Much of the research says that it takes three to four years for English competency to develop to such a level that students can learn the content in English,” said Emily de la Cruz, Portland State University education professor.
Sen. Susan Castillo, D-Eugene, Oregon’s only Hispanic lawmaker, said parents of non-native speakers tend to support bilingual education.
“I haven’t heard a groundswell of Latino people saying we need to do this,”
Oregon schools enroll more than 43,000 students classified as English Language Learners, which means they still are gaining fluency in English as a second language.
Federal anti-discrimination laws require schools to accommodate the needs of such students. State and federal laws don’t say exactly how those students should be taught.
Under the proposals, SB919 and HB2861, Oregon students would be taught in an English immersion programs for no more than a year. All textbooks and other materials would be in English. Teachers would have to teach in English and could communicate with a student in their native language only when necessary.
Parents could opt out of the requirements.
Zauner’s proposal, which is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Education Committee in early April, isn’t expected to see much success this session.
But he said he hopes the proposals will spark debate on the issue.
“I’m not trying to take anything away from the Spanish kids,” Zauner said.
“I just want them to learn quicker.”