Bilingual education handicaps Hispanic children, severely limiting their earnings potential when they enter the job market, a new national study shows.

On average, first-generation Hispanic students who went through bilingual education programs over the past two decades are now earning about 50 percent less than their peers who received an English-only education.

The study, conducted by University of Maryland labor economist Mark Hugh Lopez and Marie T. Mora, an economics professor at New Mexico State University,
is the first to link participation in a bilingual education program with later labor market opportunities.

"Between $8 billion and $10 billion a year are spent on special services for limited-English-proficient students at the state and local level," said Mr. Lopez, an assistant professor in Maryland’s school of public affairs. "However, these programs may be hindering rather than helping these students."

In 1991, first-generation Hispanic workers who had participated in bilingual education classes earned an average $19,240 compared with average earnings of $26,794 for their peers who did not enroll in such programs.

Among second-generation Hispanics—those born in this country to foreign-born parents—students in bilingual education earned an average about 30 percent less than those in English-only programs. The income disparity did not exist for third-generation students.

"One would expect that first-generation Hispanic students [those who are foreign-born] would be the most likely to benefit from these programs,
yet they are the ones suffering the greatest penalties in the labor market,"
Mr. Lopez said. "This raises concern that bilingual education may widen,
rather than narrow, the socioeconomic gap between limited-English-proficient groups and those for whom language is not an issue."

Using data compiled from the 1990 census and the High School and Beyond surveys of the National Center for Educational Statistics, the researchers looked at the incomes of 1,251 students who graduated from high school in 1982.

It is not a random sample, but controls for education and background characteristics and captures the "sample states would identify as potential
[bilingual education] students," Mr. Lopez said.

"No matter how we cut this data, we’re getting the same negative results across the board in earnings and educational attainment," he said.

"The results do not surprise me," said Rosalie Porter, chairman of the board of the Institute for Research in English Acquisition and Development
(READ), a Massachusetts-based organization that focuses on educational improvement for language-minority children.

"Analogous to this, the dropout rates for Latino children are so high after 30 years’ investment in bilingual programs," Mrs. Porter said. "In Los Angeles public schools at the end of the 1995 school year, the Latino dropout rate was 44 percent compared to 20 percent for the state as a whole.

"The troubling part, of those who had dropped out, 75 percent had been in a bilingual program. If bilingual education were a helping tool,
it should be producing more academic success for bilingual kids through high school."

Since passage of the Bilingual Education Act of 1968, school districts have implemented many programs aimed at meeting the needs of the nation’s growing immigrant populations.

Debate over the effectiveness of bilingual education programs, which employ native-language instruction, has heated up as California moves toward a June vote on the "English for the Children" initiative that would nearly abolish bilingual education in the state’s public school.

English-only advocates say that students must be immersed in the English language to effectively learn it They oppose the segregated bilingual classes where immigrant students do not mix with English-speaking peers and as a result do not easily assimilate into American culture.

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