Bilingual education foe gets support

Ex-school board members back issue

Former Denver School Board member Rita Montero got support from two former colleagues Friday in her fight to dismantle Colorado’s bilingual education program and replace it with English immersion.

Laura Lefkowitz and Lynn Coleman, who both served on the board in the 1990s, joined Montero on the west steps of the Capitol to back the effort to place the issue before voters next November.

“Bilingual education as it has been practiced in American schools for years, if not forever, is an abject failure,” Lefkowitz said. “I believe it’s time to end it.

Lupe Martinez, a mother of four, was there to explain in Spanish how her two youngest children, Luis, 9, and Christian, 6, were struggling in a Denver elementary school because of problems learning English with the current bilingual system.

“English is the language of this country and it is the language of my kids,” Martinez said through translator Montero. “How is it that kids who are in bilingual education and receive their instructions in Spanish will be successful?”

Montero, who heads English for the Children of Colorado, will appear before a title-setting board in Secretary of State Donetta Davidson’s office Wednesday to set wording for the ballot issue.

They’ll eventually need to get 80,571 signatures of electors on petitions. They are moving ahead with two proposals in case one runs into constitutional problems as did a previous effort over the requirement that it only can be a single subject.

One proposal mandates that bilingual education be replaced with English immersion programs. The other eliminates bilingual education, but also sets up a $5 million a year program for carrying out the goal of replacing it with programs involving intensive English programming for immigrant students.

State Board of Education member Gully Stanford, who co-chairs the English Plus group to oppose the measure, called the effort divisive.

“It purports to be a simplistic solution which would apply to all 178 school districts and 52,000 or so students speaking up to 90 languages,” Stanford said. “One-size-fits-all does not work in Colorado.”

Stanford said everyone agrees that youngsters should learn the English language as quickly as possible, but he said schools now offer a variety of programs, including immersion programs, catered to the students’ abilities.

He noted Denver is under a federal court order for a three-year, transition-to-English program. The state Board of Education, Gov. Bill Owens and the legislature are all committed to a three-year program, he said.

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