Everybody who wants to see Hispanic-Americans advance should get behind the new bill filed in the state Legislature by Sen. Guy Glodis (D-Worcester) to reform bilingual education.
That’s reform, not abolish.
But to hear the wails of spokespeople for advocacy groups who claim to have the interest of Hispanics at heart, you’d think the bill would throw kids just off the plane from Guatemala into a roomful of Yankees (who say “cah” instead of “car”), sink or swim.
Far from it. Glodis’ bill is modeled on the new voter-passed law in California that requires a “structured immersion” program for children who come to school without English. That means for a year the children attend classes to learn English and are taught their subjects in English.
The current so-called “transitional” bilingual program, in which students are supposed to be taught their subjects in their native languages for at most three years while they learn English, is not doing the job. The kids are learning neither English nor the other subjects. They fail the MCAS tests at a far higher rate than English- speakers, and in some areas they’re falling even further behind.
The average limited-English student spends 2.6 years in the program, and too many spend four or five. This is an indication of great waste (perhaps not unconnected with the fact that districts teaching bilingual classes get extra funds from the state). European countries in recent decades have seen their own waves of immigration (Algerians in France and Turks in Germany, for example), yet in none are the immigrant children scheduled for more than a year of bilingual programs.
More than 100 languages are spoken by Massachusetts children, yet it’s the 40,000 Spanish-speakers who have almost all the native- language teachers and books. Children from the other language groups seem to manage without all of that.
The California experience is instructive. Ron Unz, the businessman who drafted the voter initiative and who is supporting Glodis, reports that test scores among Hispanic children rose an astonishing 20 percent in the year after the abolition of that state’s “transitional” program and installation of the immersion method.
Board of Education member Abigail Thernstorm, who is backing Glodis, had it right: Our current transitional bilingual education is “linguistic cultural maintenance.” It is time to replace it with something that works.