English Immersion Proposed in California Schools

BYLINE: Lou Waters, Greg Lamotte

Students in California who are not native English speakers, have been getting a bilingual education for the past 25 years. The bilingual system has apparently failed though, and most Californians believe an English immersion program is necessary to help bilingual students get up to speed.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Now about finding the best way to teach students whose native language is not English. That has challenged California educators for years. Now there’s a new method at work in some of the schools out there.

CNN’s Greg Lamotte has a progress report.


GREG LAMOTTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With school now in full swing, it’s definitely time to crack the books.


Question is, in what language? Imagine just for a moment you are the child; how scared and confused would do you suppose you’d be if you couldn’t understand anything anyone was saying.


Would you fall behind? That, in essence, was the reasoning for the creation of bilingual education in California. It’s a system that’s been in place for 25 years.

SILVA ARGUETA, BILINGUAL ACTIVIST: We don’t want that child to fall behind in their core subjects, because that will only stigmatize them, lower their self-esteem, and create higher dropout rates.

LAMOTTE: Non-English speaking children are taught in their own languages up through third grade, while gradually being exposed to English. Fourth grade: it’s English only. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. But fact is, only about 6 percent learn enough English to enter English only classes.

ROBERT FRENCH, UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT ORANGE, CALIFORNIA: I compare that to a quarterback who completes only 6 percent of his passes, or a batter who hits 6 percent; an attorney that wins 6 percent of his cases, or a doctor only 6 percent of his patients get well. To me, that’s an atrocious failure rate.

LAMOTTE: So much so, the Orange, California unified school district, after a court battle, dumped bilingual education. In its place: English immersion.

FRENCH: We immerse the kids into a full English instruction program, but we do provide bilingual aides to assist the students.

LAMOTTE: In California, about a half million children are enrolled in bilingual education classes, but that may soon change. A recent “Los Angeles Times” poll says 80 percent of the respondents support a proposed ballot measure to dismantle bilingual education in California. The number was even higher, 84 percent, among Latino voters who were surveyed.

SHERI ANNIS, ENGLISH ONLY ACTIVIST: The earlier you are taught in English, the more quickly you adapt to the English language.

TEACHER: So for homework tonight —

LAMOTTE: It sounds simple enough. Even so, it sure can be scary when you don’t understand the language.

Greg Lamotte, CNN, orange, California.

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