Opponents of bilingual education are fighting “an exaggerated opponent,” according to a new study that says few Colorado students are even in bilingual programs. Bilingual education may stir passions more than any other topic in education, with some activists saying native-language support helps immigrants learn English and others saying it dooms them to semi-literacy.

But in Colorado, far more English learners in public schools take English as a Second Language classes that do not use native-language instruction, according to the study by Kevin G. Welner and Kathy Escamilla, education professors at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The vast majority of English learners, they say, already are being taught in ways that meet the goals of an anti-bilingual initiative likely to go before voters in November. The initiative would create a constitutional amendment forcing schools to teach English to immigrant children in immersion courses “not normally to exceed one year.”

There are 61,640 children in Colorado public schools who are classified as English learners, the report says, based on a survey of the state’s school districts in 2001. Welner provided The Denver Post with a draft of the study.

Of those, 62 percent – or 38,712 children – are in English as a Second Language programs, the report says.

Those programs “do precisely what backers of the new ballot initiative are demanding: they teach English without using the students’ native languages,” the report says.

Those figures include 15,292 children in Denver’s English Language Acquisition program. But that program is governed by a federal court order and would not be affected by a constitutional amendment, Welner said.

However, Ron Unz, the California businessman promoting the anti-bilingual measure, said Denver would be affected if the measure passes in November.

Unz’s organization, English for the Children, planned to submit more than 80,000 petition signatures to the secretary of state’s office today. Having the signatures verified will be the last hurdle to getting the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.

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