Bilingual Bunk

Children in English immersion classes doing swimmingly

Chalk up another embarrassing defeat for education-establishment “experts” and a stunning victory for common sense and immigrants’ children.

Two years ago, California’s public-school “experts” predicted doom for non-English-speaking children if voters approved a ban on bilingual education. Millions of kids would drown academically in the cruel “sink or swim” English-immersion approach, they lamented.

But California’s parents, including most immigrants whose children were sinking year after year in interminable bilingual programs, blew off the experts and overwhelmingly approved the ban.

Now, two years later, more children of immigrants are swimming, and swimming better, than ever before. Their test scores are skyrocketing.

But don’t expect even such dramatic results to sway the “experts,” who are battling a similar bilingual-education ban on the Arizona ballot. What is important to these people is process, not results.

And the bilingual-education process pays off handsomely—for educators, not students. This gravy train from Washington is driven by headcount, not results. Indeed, students moving from segregated bilingual classes to regular classes threaten the gravy train.

There is a powerful monetary incentive to keep these kids in bilingual classes as long as possible. Unfortunately, many of them leave bilingual education classes only when they drop out of school.

Still, the “experts” have persisted, some even implying racism is behind the move to derail their gravy train. Bilingual education, they claim, helps foreign-born children maintain their “cultural identity” and “self-esteem” while giving them a better shot at long-term academic success.

All of that has been a cruel hoax for immigrant families who moved here seeking opportunities for success. Most understand they have the best chance of realizing those opportunities by immersing themselves in U.S. culture—not by isolating themselves from it.

Furthermore, becoming full participants in the American dream does not necessarily mean erasing cultural identity. Indeed, academic success is a value that transcends cultural differences; it is something most parents everywhere wish for their children.

And they’re getting that in California. Standardized reading test scores of second grade students who started school speaking little or no English have jumped an average 9 points in the past two years. Math scores jumped 14 points.

Test scores also went up among high school students formerly enrolled in bilingual classes, though the gains were not as dramatic as those among younger students. That suggests older students have a harder time adjusting to the more rigorous immersion approach, while young children adapt readily.

There was also a pronounced difference in scores between the English-immersion students and other foreign-born students whose parents signed waivers that allowed them to remain in bilingual classes. The bilingual-program students’ average scores lagged significantly.

It’s hard to imagine how the “experts” can possibly find cracks in the California test results, but expect them to be looking. Expect some of them also to flash the race card; if that doesn’t work, try inflaming raw emotions.

Clearly, however, Californians, and particularly foreign-born California students, are better off after having derailed the bilingual gravy train. Arizonans should do the same in November.

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