Education chief: Keep bilingual option

Paige decries statewide plan

Local educators should be able to pick the method they think works best to teach English to immigrant children, U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige said.

A proposal likely to go before Colorado voters in November would remove that choice from local schools and districts. The proposal would create a state constitutional amendment forcing schools to put virtually all English learners in one-year immersion courses rather than introduce them to English gradually, using native-language support, as many do now. Paige

“Whether or not it is advisable to completely shut the door on native-language instruction is a decision that has to be made at the point of instruction,” Paige said Friday.

Paige was in Denver to talk about No Child Left Behind, President Bush’s wide-ranging education law. Governments can do a lot to encourage good education, but telling schools exactly how to do their business is going too far, Paige said.

“I disagree with him,” said Rita Montero, a former Denver school board member who is sponsoring the amendment, dubbed English for the Children, along with California businessman-turned-Republican politician Ron Unz.

“Instruction in native language has proven to be a failure. Paige ought to get on the right page,” Montero said.

Unz was in Denver, too, distributing California second-grade test scores that he said prove immersion works and bilingual doesn’t.

Almost all educators and policymakers favor bilingual education, Unz conceded. But because they’re wrong, he said, it’s OK for voters to claim direct control of classroom practices with a constitutional amendment.

“I think you really have to go with the facts rather than the ideology,” Unz said.

In supporting local control, Paige echoed English Plus, a group that opposes the ballot proposal.

“If a local parent can’t approach a local educator or a local administrator to help them determine what best suits the educational needs of their child, then we’re put into the one-size-fits-all box,” English Plus spokesman John Britz said.

While Bush’s No Child Life Behind takes no position on bilingual versus immersion, it says English learners must be tested in English within three years. That’s the same target used by Denver Public Schools and many other school districts.

Montero said waiting longer than one year to “mainstream” English learners is racial segregation.

English for the Children has until Aug. 5 to collect about 80,000 valid signatures to place the proposal on the ballot. Signature gathering was delayed several months by legal challenges from English Plus.

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