About 150 people, many of them schoolchildren, rallied last week to oppose the Denver Public School district’s plans to modify its bilingual education program. The turnout seemed small, measured against the fact that there are more than 10,000 Hispanic students in Denver’s bilingual programs.

The demonstrators argued that there should be no reduction in the district’s bilingual program. Nita Gonzales, one of the protest’s organizers, went so far as to threaten to start a recall of the entire school board if DPS backs away “from quality bilingual education.” Gonzales runs a private academy and is therefore not the most representative spokesperson for Hispanic parents whose children are in the public school system. Putting that aside, however, her remark did get to the right issue. The question before DPS is precisely what constitutes a “quality bilingual education.” But the answer is not as obvious as Gonzales seems to think. In fact, the chief problem with the existing program is that it has too long substituted quantity for quality. In the early years of bilingual programs there was an assumption that the longer the program went on, the better it might be. Years of experience, here as well as elsewhere, indicates that is simply not so. Children who continue in bilingual education
programs for four, five, six years or longer, increasingly tend to fall behind their peers. Students who receive intensive, but relatively brief instruction in their own language before transferring to classes taught in English tend to do better.

Gonzales and her fellow protesters need to come to grips with that fact – the very fact that is driving the district’s current effort to modify its bilingual program. The aim is not to disadvantage students who initially come to class speaking a language other than English. The aim is to tailor those programs on a school-by-school basis so they can best serve those students.

Clinging to the status quo in this case is a losing proposition all around, but especially for the students and their families, who understandably want – and deserve – to match the academic progress of their peers. — — — Hushing jets can create jobs Reducing noise at Denver International Airport is a worthy goal – just ask anyone who is bothered by existing flight patterns.

But noise reduction is only one of the attractions of a proposition advanced late last month by the Wellington Webb administration.

Webb has asked that corporations (most logically airlines) submit a proposal to the city for launching a jet engine retrofitting facility at Denver International Airport. The city administration is dangling a very big carrot as part of its request for proposals. The carrot is a financing and loan package valued at between $ 5 million and $ 15 million. Nor is that all, the city promises that existing facilities at the airport may be available at reasonable rates, making the business opportunity even more attractive.

The timing of the proposal is particularly apt in that a number of the nation’s airlines face looming and expensive deadlines for retrofitting so-called Stage II aircraft to meet Stage III standards by the end of this century. Such retrofitting can cost $ 1.2 million per engine.

New entrant airlines, defined as those that started operations after Nov. 5, 1990, are under federal deadlines to get 75 percent of their older aircraft converted before the end of 1998. All of them need to be covered by the end of 1999.

What that means is that a huge backlog of work must be done to bring the new entrant airlines into compliance with federal noise regulations, perhaps more than 2,000 engines in all. The city’s proposal raises two questions:

Is there an appropriate way to get a significant share of this work done in Denver and create perhaps hundreds of new jobs in the process?

Is it worth giving city subsidy to make it happen?

The answer to the first question is that there is an opportunity for the city to help create such an enterprise. The airport gets about $ 4 million in state fuel tax revenues that could be used to finance the project. A law is in place, the Colorado Business Incentive Fund, that would govern the arrangement and dictate how the fuel tax funds may be spent. The general goal of the program, known more commonly as the enterprise zone program, is to create jobs and diversify the local economies.

The answer to the second question is not quite as easy and will depend upon the scope of the proposals, which must be submitted by mid-January. Conceivably one of the new entrant airlines, say Frontier, might be interested in creating the retrofitting facility, and if so that could be especially good news for the city. The existing competitive situation at DIA is such that United Airlines, and its various dependent feeder airlines, now controls perhaps 75 percent of passenger traffic.

Reduction of that concentration is clearly in the city’s long-term interest. Wouldn’t it be nice to see another airline become more stable, more successful and, yes, more profitable by expanding into the retrofitting business? We think so and hope that the city’s request for proposals will net just the right proposition come January.

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