Bilingual trap

Harmful education program must be reformed

Sen. Guy W. Glodis, D-Worcester, appears to be correct in his prediction that the political climate is hospitable this year to reform bilingual education in Massachusetts.

Repeated attempts during the past decade to overhaul the discredited system have failed due to the opposition of groups with a vested interested in a virtually open-ended and politically driven system.

Sen. Glodis has filed a bill that would limit bilingual education to a one-year sheltered immersion program for non-English-speaking students before moving them on to mainstream education.

That sensible approach follows a formula introduced in California in 1998 after voters opted for reform. Since the “English for the Children” law was passed, its success prompted other states — Arizona, Illinois, Colorado, New York and Connecticut to implement or consider steps toward bilingual education reform.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved the “Parents Know Best” proposal in September, requiring informed parental consent for placement in bilingual programs. The Senate is expected to follow suit.

Significantly, the primary sponsor of the California reform, Ron Unz, was on hand to offer support for the Glodis bill. Mr. Unz said test scores have risen 20 percent in California since the new law took effect.

“Why would Massachusetts be different from California?” Mr. Unz asked. “If immigrant students can so quickly and easily learn English and academic subject matter in a state like California with so much ethnic diversity, why would it not be the case in Massachusetts?”

Why indeed?

Yet die-hard supporters of reform already are attacking the Glodis bill as “a front for more anti-immigrant propaganda.”

What rubbish.

Helping students to enter the mainstream as rapidly as possible actually is pro-immigrant — as it was for generations of new Americans from around the globe whose first priority was to master English.

For without such mastery, immigrants have limited opportunities, unable to participate fully in the nation’s economic boom and rich cultural life.

Glodis said that if reform efforts fail again this year, he will mount an initiative drive to put the issue before the voters.

We hope that will not be necessary. The Legislature should act now to reform bilingual education for the thousands of children being held back by the current system.

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