Everybody who wants to see Hispanic-Americans advance should get
behind the new bill filed in the state Legislature by Sen. Guy Glodis
(D-Worcester) to reform bilingual education.
That’s reform, not abolish.
But to hear the wails of spokespeople for advocacy groups who
claim to have the interest of Hispanics at heart, you’d think the
bill would throw kids just off the plane from Guatemala into a
roomful of Yankees (who say “cah” instead of “car”), sink or swim.
Far from it. Glodis’ bill is modeled on the new voter-passed law
in California that requires a “structured immersion” program for
children who come to school without English. That means for a year
the children attend classes to learn English and are taught their
subjects in English.
The current so-called “transitional” bilingual program, in which
students are supposed to be taught their subjects in their native
languages for at most three years while they learn English, is not
doing the job. The kids are learning neither English nor the other
subjects. They fail the MCAS tests at a far higher rate than English-
speakers, and in some areas they’re falling even further behind.
The average limited-English student spends 2.6 years in the
program, and too many spend four or five. This is an indication of
great waste (perhaps not unconnected with the fact that districts
teaching bilingual classes get extra funds from the state). European
countries in recent decades have seen their own waves of immigration
(Algerians in France and Turks in Germany, for example), yet in none
are the immigrant children scheduled for more than a year of
More than 100 languages are spoken by Massachusetts children, yet
it’s the 40,000 Spanish-speakers who have almost all the native-
language teachers and books. Children from the other language groups
seem to manage without all of that.
The California experience is instructive. Ron Unz, the businessman
who drafted the voter initiative and who is supporting Glodis,
reports that test scores among Hispanic children rose an astonishing
20 percent in the year after the abolition of that state’s
“transitional” program and installation of the immersion method.
Board of Education member Abigail Thernstorm, who is backing
Glodis, had it right: Our current transitional bilingual education is
“linguistic cultural maintenance.” It is time to replace it with
something that works.