SOMETIMES THE BIGGEST surprise in a news story is the fact that anybody was surprised.
Take the article on Sunday that said that the end of bilingual education in California had resulted not in the catastrophe that its supporters had predicted, but stunning progress for thousands of children who came to school speaking Spanish or some other language.
When voters approved a public initiative doing away with bilingual education — which wasn’t really bilingual at all, but simply kept teaching children in their native tongue for five, six, seven years or more — the doomsday prophets said immigrant children would struggle, fail and eventually just drop out of school.
Instead, after two years of “immersion” in English-language classes, these students have actually increased their reading scores by 9 percentage points. And confounding warnings that they would be even more lost in other kinds of work, they have boosted their performance in math by an average of 14 points.
Some of those who fought against the change are now admitting that they were wrong, though others, especially those who depend on separation and ethnic politics for their jobs or community positions, are still battling against the clear evidence. But these results really do nothing more than confirm what was the common-sense argument all along: Kids learn English much faster if they study and socialize with kids who speak it. Segregate them in a linguistic ghetto and, even if they do learn something, they’ll run into a brick wall when they eventually have to transfer to regular classes, and they’ll be horribly unprepared for the real world even if they do stick it out long enough to graduate.
We once had the opportunity to visit a special school in DeKalb County that takes immigrant kids who speak virtually no English and gives them a crash survival course before they are shifted into regular schools. The director said all of the students there faced great challenges, but the toughest were not those who had come directly from another nation, but those who had been crippled by a year or two of bilingual education in some other place in this country.
Sadly, there are still powerful interests in some states that are fighting to continue this tragic disservice to immigrant children. They may not be interested in evidence, but we hope that people in leadership positions will take a good look at California’s success story and do everything possible to halt the practice, as soon as possible. A generation of newcomers to America will depend on learning English, and schools should be the last place that serve as an obstacle to that goal.