Bilingual Education at a Crossroads

By: Felix Castro
Letters, The Los Angeles Times
January 5, 1980.

Well, I see that after 12 years we are now into Round 2 of the great bilingual education debate (Times, Dec. 24), "Bilingual Education in State at a Crossroads."

Politicians are busily writing new laws and grandstanding for votes and some Chicano educators are positively salivating at the prospect of new millions for another batch of "creative and innovative" programs---and the thousands of new cushy jobs these new programs will create.

I think that after having spent hundreds of millions of dollars on bilingual education, American taxpayers are entitled to know what they have gotten for their money. The answer, quite simply, is that we have gotten essentially ZILCH. Nada. Thousands upon thousands of Mexican children in our schools are still not succeeding; their reading and math scores are still near the bottom.

The 1977-78 nationwide survey of bilingual education performed by the American Institutes for Research of Palo Alto supports our position that bilingual education has failed. Two of their conclusions will suffice to prove the point:

1-Gains in reading and math computation of children participating in bilingual programs were not significantly different from gains of children who did not participate in these programs.

2-Participating in the programs did not bring about a more positive student attitude towards school and school-related activities.

The report further points out that more than 80% of the programs throughout the country were so-called "maintenance of language" programs, rather than transitional programs as Congress intended and as specified in federal law. In other words, over three-fourths of the programs in the country have been designed and implemented in direct violation of the law.

What should be done? The answer is simple: Since bilingual education has been a total failure for 12 years, and since educators still cannot decide what should be done, I say let's get rid of it. I suggest that those parents who want their children to learn Spanish, or any other language, organize after-school and Saturday schools for that purpose, as others have done in this country.

The whole issue boils down to what the role of American education should be. I submit, trite though it may sound, that the goal should be to produce responsible citizens, capable of functioning in the society in which they will live and work. This does not mean that the schools do not have a responsibility with respect to the language and culture of all the various groups in our country. That role has still not been satisfactorily defined by educators. We should not, however, continue to fool ourselves that ill-conceived programs, based on emotion and not much else, are going to help improve the quality of education.

As one who is concerned about the education of Mexican-American children, who is a believer in the retention of Hispanic language and culture, who has spoken Spanish all his life, and who has spent the last 16 years of his life in programs to improve the educational opportunities for young people from the Hispanic communities of California, I offer the following suggestions:

Let us concentrate on teaching all our children in English, especially reading, writing and math skills. For those children who cannot speak English, let us provide temporary (90-day) reception centers at each school. After 90 days in these centers all children should be phased into regular classrooms with instruction in English. The cultural background of Hispanic children should be continued in a regular classroom setting. This is the transitional approach and, I would remind bilingual educators and politicians, this is precisely what Congress intended and what was written into federal law.

I can guarantee that this simple approach will succeed where the great bilingual education experiment has failed (and it will be significantly cheaper at that):

1-Many more children will learn to read and write and feel better about themselves.

2-Fewer children will drop out and join gangs.

3-More will go on to college and become professionals.

4-The need to bus children will be eliminated.

5-Many more will grow up to get good jobs, pay taxes, vote, run for office---in a word, succeed. Isn't this what education is all about?