Petition Drive Begins In Bid To Kill Bilingual Education

A campaign is under way for a proposed ballot measure that would eliminate bilingual education in Colorado.

Paid petition circulators hit the streets last week to gather more than 63, 000 signatures needed to qualify for the November election.

Organizers will formally launch the effort today.

Bilingual instruction has failed for years, said Linda Chavez, president of One Nation Indivisible, the prime sponsor. Polls indicate that more than 60 percent of Coloradans want students taught in a structured, “English- immersion” program like the one California passed in 1998, she said.

“We’ll spend as much as it takes,” said Chavez, director of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission under President Reagan.

Opponents call the proposal a simplistic answer to a complicated learning problem. Children benefit by learning subject content for three to seven years in the language they think in – their native tongue, they say.

“We did English immersion for 200 years, and it didn’t work,” said Kathy Escamilla, an associate professor of bilingual education at the University of Colorado.

Chavez’s proposal takes decisions away from teachers and local educators who best know the needs of students, Escamilla said. A group called Coloradans for Common Sense is forming to fight the measure.

There are an estimated 50,000 limited English students in Colorado who mostly speak Spanish. Approximately 17,000 are in Denver Public Schools, which is in the first year of a program to mainstream non-English speakers into English classes within three years.

The initiative may not affect Denver Public Schools because the district’s program is governed by a federal court order, Chavez said.

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