In advance of initiative, Swift signs bilingual bill

Acting Governor Jane Swift yesterday signed a sweeping overhaul of the state’s 31-year-old bilingual education program, hoping the changes will persuade voters to reject a November ballot question that would replace bilingual education with English immersion.

Swift has said she prefers changes through legislation, rather than the ballot box. Under the new law, passed by the Legislature earlier this summer, districts get more flexibility to offer different types of bilingual-education classes. But they must meet new requirements, such as ensuring bilingual teachers are certified and writing individual plans for bilingual students who are struggling to learn English.

The law, which takes effect immediately, allows schools to either choose from six methods of teaching English to children who are not fluent in the language, or create their own innovative method. In districts with more than 50 children in the same language groups, at least two programs must be offered. The law also requires annual assessments of students’ progress and allows the state to step in if a school district is deemed ”underperforming.”

The new law gives school committees, teachers and principals greater choice, lawmakers said. ”Why should we repeat the mistakes of the past and impose another one-size-fits-all program?” said Representative Peter Larkin, Democrat of Pittsfield and House chairman of the Education Committee.

Despite the new law, opponents of bilingual education vow to continue their campaign to end bilingual education classes. ”I assure you by November, when we vote on this, the electorate will know this is just another gimmick masked as reform,” said Lincoln Tamayo, a former Chelsea High School principal who is leading the ballot campaign.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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