Tired of school districts spending millions teaching bilingual children who, tests showed, were not learning English, voters in California and Arizona passed resolutions mandating English-only schooling.

The English-only objective is to teach English quickly through an intensive one-year immersion program. Since 1968, the federal objective has been to teach bilingual students English while simultaneously retaining their native language skills. For 34 years, the theory that native language retention was as critical as learning English has been imposed upon children and their parents through teachers implementing the goals of the Bilingual Education Act. The law sought development of English skills “and to the extent possible, the native-language skills.” With federal money and clout over curriculum, the Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs trained a generation of teachers in the art of native language retention. Language retention spawned cultural retention classes, and soon the goal of mainstreaming students was secondary to teaching foreign languages and cultures. Federal money promoting bilingual/bicultural programs was so large it ensnared school districts into extending the length of time non-English speakers were in bilingual programs.

By the 1990s, the goal of many programs was not teaching English skills but counting heads so the money would not dry up. Bilingual education became a lucrative proposition by subverting the goal of mainstreaming students for financial gain. It was not uncommon for Hispanic parents to complain that their non-Spanish-speaking children were placed in bilingual education classes. Once there, it was impossible to get out. Hispanic parents watched their children become ostracized as they struggled to learn English and Spanish and not math and science.

This year, President Bush, with bipartisan congressional support, enacted the No Child Left Behind Education Act. This law rewards school districts for teaching English rapidly. The Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages is now the Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enforcement and Academic Achievement for Limited English Proficient Students. Teaching methodology will now go through the newly designated National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition and Language Instruction Educational Programs.

The word “bilingual” does not appear in Bush’s education plan. Nor is there any mention of retaining native languages. The objective is to teach English rapidly so students can be placed in traditional classes expeditiously.

To encourage immersion programs, Bush has set accountability standards. Schools will be judged on how many students are annually reclassified as fluent in English.

Yearly English assessments are mandated. Utah will receive $5 million for program assessment in 2003. Federal money will no longer be federally administered. Now, state education boards will distribute money based upon non-English-speaking student enrollments and progress in moving students from a language program to a traditional classroom.

Local control is a centerpiece of the new law. This goes beyond money. Parents will be given report cards grading school programs. Low-income students trapped in poorly performing schools can transfer to better-performing schools and obtain tutorial assistance. Students in dangerous schools can transfer to safer schools.

Any language program that is instituted must be founded upon “scientifically based research.” This term appears repeatedly in the new legislation but is undefined. It is meant to ensure that local boards do not impose or ban programs merely to satisfy their subjective biases. Conversely, scientifically based research can be the death knell for all bilingual education if districts are not vigilant.

This was not Bush’s intent. The president’s plan increased funding for linguistic programs by over $300 million. Districts will now, rather than compete for grants, receive funding based upon non-English-speaking enrollments. This will equalize distribution of funds. Total federal education funds to Utah will exceed $331 million in 2003.

Unfortunately, funding for teacher training, research and support services has been reduced by $57 million. This means there is less money to develop a cadre of teachers qualified to teach the new immersion programs. In Utah, only 3 percent of all teachers are certified as bilingual-education teachers. Neither Democrats nor minority leaders opposed the bill. Hispanic Congressional Caucus members voted for the bill. The largest Hispanic advocacy association in the country, the National Council of La Raza, did not resist the bill.

The Hispanic community has long realized that bilingual education was a financial charade rewarding school districts that maintained bilingual student dropout factories in the guise of bilingual programs. Students were isolated and taught little except language and culture classes. Frustrating classes and no parental participation have translated into a Utah Hispanic dropout rate of 60 percent before high school. Talk about losing a generation.

Based on lack of opposition, it appears this legislation benefits everyone, especially the Spanish-speaking immigrant community. Luckily for the Demos, the GOP doesn’t know how to communicate its accomplishment to the immigrant masses.

Utah native Mike Martinez, an attorney in private practice, is active in Hispanic affairs. He has previously worked in the Utah Attorney General’s Office, the Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office and for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington, D.C. E-MAIL: mmartinez@prism.net

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