Despite opposition by certain immigrant groups, teachers’ unions and an entrenched bilingual bureaucracy, more than three out of five California voters last week opted to ban bilingual education in favor of a program of ”English immersion.”
While many of those who objected to the ballot initiative would like everyone to think the vote was a result of anti-immigrant feelings running rampant in the United States, that assessment is too simplistic.
Some people voted to end bilingual education because of bigotry, but certainly not all. In fact, 37 percent of voters of Hispanic heritage and 57 percent of voters of Asian heritage voted in favor of changing the way California educates children whose primary language is something other than English.
During the campaign quite a number of immigrant parents were vocal in their support of change.
Among other things, they claimed their children were falling behind beause their attention was divided between English and another language, mainly Spanish. Their ability to communicate in either suffered.
Bilingual education tended to isolate their children away from the mainstream, they said. They feared their children would emerge from the school system without the English-language skills needed to prosper in American society.
Educating students in American schools can be a tough assignment even if they are fluent in English. Doing the job when their English is halting at best adds immeasurably to the difficulty.
Whether English immersion will prove more successful in California than bilingual education, time will tell. If the courts don’t get in the way of swift implementation of the will of California voters, then good base-line data will be available in a few years.
Children, of course, tend to learn at different rates. When it comes to learning English, the earlier the better. The risk in moving to English immersion is that students without a solid aptitude for language will not be able to function adequately in the public school system.
The risk of bilingual education is that they won’t be able to function well in the broader society.
The California data will prove vital in policy decisions throughout the country. If the data show English immersion is more effective than bilingual
education, then that is the way to go. If it demonstrates otherwise, then dumping bilingual education would, indeed, amount to anti-immigrant bigotry.
Policy-makers should ignore self-serving injunctions of pro- or anti-immigrant groups and entrenched bilingual bureaucracies.
Decisions should be based on the data, and the focus should be strictly on how best to educate the children.