BOSTON — A proposal to eliminate bilingual education in the state’s public schools was sharply criticized yesterday by lawmakers and bilingual education specialists.
“We want real solutions, not rhetoric,” said Rep. Jarrett Barrios, D-Cambridge.
And Rep. Antonio Cabral, D-New Bedford, called the proposal by Sen. Guy Glodis, D-Worcester, “anti-immigrant propaganda.”
Under transitional bilingual education, the state’s current system, students who don’t speak English are put in classes where they learn English, but they also learn subjects in their native language. The program lasts three years, but can be extended.
Glodis’ office said more than 44,000 students are enrolled in bilingual education classes in the state.
The idea is that the students will eventually ease themselves into regular classes.
But Glodis said he wanted to set up a one-year “sheltered immersion program” in which students would get intensive help with the English language. After that one-year program, students would go into regular classes unless their parents requested they be put in bilingual classes.
Too many bilingual education students are remaining in the programs past the three-year mark, with some remaining up to seven years, Glodis said.
Glodis also pointed to a high dropout rate among Hispanics, saying that was evidence the programs aren’t working. “I have filed this bill because fact after fact has clearly demonstrated that bilingual education does not work,” he said.
“My greatest intent in filing this bill is to help minority students, help non-English-speaking students,” he said. “Kids need to master the English language in order to be competitive.”
Glodis was joined at the news conference by Ron Unz, the California businessman who pushed successfully for similar legislation to be passed in his state in a referendum.
Unz said he believed that a referendum might be needed in Massachusetts, if the bill doesn’t pass the Legislature.
Unz said it was important that immigrant children learn English. “It’s what their parents want. It’s what society needs. And it’s what’s best for them,” he said.
Just down the hall, a few minutes later, defenders of bilingual education gathered.
Barrios produced different figures, saying that, on average, students spend only 2 1/2 years in the program.
The bilingual education supporters also said that not every child can learn English in just a year and that immersion programs cause immigrant children to fall behind their peers in their other subjects. They also said that bilingual education could work if changes were made.
Among the suggestions: that the Department of Education should do more to monitor the program and greater efforts should be made to find better qualified teachers.