The issue of bilingual education is of vital interest in the Houston area,
especially considering the immigrant population and the conflicts of ideology and objectives of local educators and community leaders. To many observers, it appears that bilingual education has become a “political football,” with the education of children being of secondary importance.
The League of Women Voters of Houston recently conducted a two-year study of bilingual education in the Houston area. In that study the League observed that ideological and political differences have contributed to confusion and emotional debate about the purpose of bilingual education.
Our study showed the purpose of bilingual education should be to teach every Limited English Proficient, or LEP, student to read, write and speak English as soon as possible while maintaining academic achievement. Effectiveness of bilingual education should be determined by how quickly transition into English is made and by standardized testing results of academic achievement,
using valid, verifiable data.
This study — which is available on the League’s Web site at www.neosoft.com/lwv/ — showed disagreement among educators and community leaders, not only about the definition of bilingual education, but also about the goals of programs. While some groups see a goal of proficiency in reading and writing the English language, others believe that academic achievement is paramount; yet others hold the goal of preserving another language and culture.
State law mandates that districts must provide either bilingual or a special language program for those LEP students with difficulty in performing ordinary class work in English. Vagueness in statutory and case law,
however, has provided fertile opportunity for partisan interests to further agenda. The League’s study showed several inconsistencies in application of the law and in curriculum, not only among school districts, but even within those districts
Some studies have flawed methods and are ideologically based. This contributes to the confusion, making it all but impossible to determine whether poor academic performance is the result of bilingual education,
other factors, or a combination of factors.
The study found the limited supply of qualified, committed teachers; the high mobility of families; economic hardships; and, sometimes, the low educational expectations of teachers, families, and the children, are factors that negatively influence the academic achievement of LEP students.
These factors can be mitigated by consistency of curriculum, adequate resources available from the Texas Education Agency, raising educational expectations and recruiting additional qualified, committed teachers.
The League believes that funding for bilingual education should be focused on acquisition of English proficiency; the preservation of ethnic cultures is the responsibility of the home and other institutions.
The educational needs of children should have priority over political and/or group interests. If programs and their objectives are clearly defined and carefully monitored to produce reliable and unbiased information, the effectiveness of bilingual programs could be properly assessed.
Swartz is president of the League of Women Voters of Houston.