Proposed reforms in bilingual education won’t add up to major savings in the school budget, Randolph School Superintendent Arthur Melia said.
Acting Gov. Jane Swift last week proposed cutting bilingual education from three years to two and allowing local school systems to create their own curricula for the program.
“I don’t think cutting it from three years to two will save anything,” Melia said.
He fully supports reform of the state’s 1971 bilingual education law, calling it “tragically flawed.” But he said the law must be either completely revised or scrapped altogether.
“My own feeling is the sooner people learn English the better off they are,” Melia said.
Many parents want their children to learn English as quickly as possible so they can get the education that leads to a better job, he said.
But bilingual education is only part of the roughly $1 million the Randolph schools will spend this year on special instruction for students with limited skills in English. The total school budget is $28.4 million.
Of the 563 students in the Randolph schools whose first language is not English — about 13 percent of the system’s enrollment — only about 85 students are in the bilingual programs in Haitian Creole and Mandarin Chinese.
That compares with about 275 students in the school system’s program for English Language Learners, which uses a different method of instruction.
The remaining students have enough English skills that they don’t require the special instruction.
School systems must create a bilingual program when there are 20 or more students who speak the same language. Students are taught subjects like math and science in their native language while they learn English.
In the English Language Learner program, students receive additional English instruction while attending regular classes. And separate classes for each language are not required.
Melia said it would be easier and cost less if the students came to the system speaking one or two different languages.
But Randolph has students who speak 48 different languages. In some cases, a language may only be spoken by three or fewer students, he said.
With the shifts in the town’s population, Randolph also faces the potential of having to start new bilingual education programs in other languages. In addition to resuming a program in Vietnamese, there is also the potential need for programs in Spanish; Tagalog, a language spoken in the Philippines; and Ibo, which is spoken in Nigeria.
Setting up a new bilingual program is very costly, he said.
One of the biggest problems Melia has with the present bilingual education law is finding teachers who both speak a language and have strong English skills.
“The law doesn’t do much good if you can’t find qualified teachers in those languages,” Melia said.
Fred Hanson may be reached at [email protected]