BOSTON — A state legislator plans to file a bill to limit bilingual education classes to a one-year immersion program before moving students to English language classes.
Massachusetts’ bilingual instruction programs have failed to help the 44,000 students they were designed to serve, said state Rep. Guy Glodis, Democrat of Worcester. His bill, which resembles California’s bilingual education program, states that children will be taught in English, and will be promoted to mainstream classes after demonstrating a “good working knowledge” of English.
“There are over 100 different language backgrounds in Massachusetts, and out of all of these, Hispanic is the highest ethnic background to take bilingual education courses,” said Glodis, who planned to introduce his bill today. “However, that group also has the lowest test scores, the highest dropout rates and the lowest college admission rate. What does that say about bilingual education? Obviously, it’s failing.”
Advocates for bilingual education, the American Civil Liberties Union and several legislators criticized Glodis’ bill.
“He’s treating it as the problem,” former Boston School Committee member Felix Arroyo told the Boston Herald. “It’s a tool. Is it being used adequately or not? Has it been given adequate resources or not? Those are the questions that need to be answered before it is discharged completely.”
The Massachusetts bilingual law was adopted in 1971, making it the oldest in the nation. Several attempts to discard the system, including one by Gov. William F. Weld in 1994, have failed.
Although state Board of Education chairman James A. Peyser didn’t endorse the bill, he said he favored ending the current structure of the state’s bilingual education.
“I endorse the idea that we need to eliminate the mandate for bilingual education and open up the process of teaching English to immigrant students with a broader range of teaching methods,” Peyser told The Boston Globe. “In other countries other than the U.S., students who immigrate are put in intensive language acquisition environments for a limited time I don’t think that’s a bad approach at all.”
One year is not long enough for most non-English speaking students to master the language and perform well in English-only classes, critics said. Students would also fail standardized tests, such as the MCAS exam, at even higher rates.