SAN DIEGO – Immigrant parents and children in inner-city neighborhoods are eager to learn English as the key to becoming Americans and securing good jobs, and many fault bilingual education programs for their children’s difficulties, an ongoing University of California study has found.
“All parents wanted their children to learn English,” said Marjorie Faulstich-Orellana of the Institute of Human Development at the University of California at Berkeley, who spoke to some of the 12,000 educators gathered here for the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association. “Children value English over the home language.”
From 1984 to 1993, Mrs. Faulstich-Orellana was a bilingual teacher in the Pico Union district of Los Angles, an area 90 percent Hispanic and largely populated by immigrants from Mexico and Central America.
Lucila Ek and Arcelia Hernandez, co-authors of the study, were also bilingual teachers in the same area, an ethnic enclave where children can speak Spanish easily.
The study found that parents wanted their children to be bilingual so they could get good jobs. One mother said of her son, “He has lots of opportunities because he can speak a lot of English.”
Said another mother, “It makes me more happy than anything” that her daughters speak English.
Parents saw the ability to speak English as the key to opportunities they did not have themselves. While parents wanted their children to speak English as adults, the children wanted to speak English right away.
Children, like parents, apparently considered learning English as a “solution to inequity,” says the study. “They want to speak English so they will be seen as American.”
Mrs. Faulstich-Orellana found that “when children appeared to be falling behind academically, parents often wondered if the bilingual program was to blame.”
She said parents told her that “when they’re bilingual, the kids fall behind.”
The study also found that parents used their children’s abilities in English as a measure of their academic progress. Children boasted of their ability to speak English and sometimes complained about having to speak Spanish.
The study did not surprise Ron Unz, who supports a ballot measure that would largely eliminate bilingual education in California.
“This study confirms our views exactly,” Mr. Unz said. If the measure passes in June, “these parents will finally get their wish fulfilled by having their children taught in English as soon as they enter school.”
According to a field poll in March, 61 percent of Hispanics, 63 percent of blacks, 75 percent of Asians and 71 percent of whites support the initiative, along with 57 percent of Democrats and 84 percent of Republicans.
Mrs. Faulstich-Orellana told educators Monday that half the teachers in the Pico Union district support the measure, known as Proposition 227.