No one should have been surprised by reports out of California last week that the end of bilingual education had led to dramatic improvements in the way Spanish-speaking students perform on tests. Children are remarkably resilient and adaptive, and they quickly learn new languages when immersed in them. To keep a child in the United States away from English is to cruelly sentence him or her to a life-long verbal struggle.
That this wasn’t clear to many in the education establishment is remarkable.
It certainly had been demonstrated for years by people like Nancy Ichinaga,
the principal at Bennett-Key Elementary School in Inglewood, Calif. For years, she defied state officials who tried to force her to teach students in Spanish. Year after year, about half of her students are Latino, and many more come from homes where Tongan, Thai and other languages are spoken. Yet Ichinaga has a remarkable and consistent record of success. In 1999, the median score among her students was in the 74th percentile in math and in the 62nd percentile in reading on the Stanford-9 Achievement Test.
But this success was consistently ignored by most other schools and by state lawmakers in California. It took a citizens’ initiative, Proposition 227, to ban bilingual education. Doomsayers predicted catastrophe, despite the evidence. Now it is undeniably clear they were wrong.
A New York Times report said scores climbed dramatically over the past two years. In the second grade, the jump was by 9 percentage points in reading among children who spoke limited English. The jump in mathematics scores was an even more dramatic 14 percentage points.
This is important information for Utah’s educators and lawmakers to consider. This state’s Spanish-speaking population is increasing rapidly. No one, however, should believe the best way to teach and assimilate the children of these newcomers is to teach them in anything other than English.
California’s example has shown how wrong so-called experts can be. One of them told the Times he had read research that showed it took seven years to teach students English. He readily admits now he was wrong.
Most important of all, millions of schoolchildren in that state now have a greater chance for successful lives in the United States.