SPANISH-speaking students have improved academic performance since passage of a California law requiring English instruction, according to a New York Times story datelined Aug. 17.

Two years ago, voters approved a measure ending bilingual education, forcing 1 million students into classes in English. Prophecies of disaster “have not materialized,” according to reporter Jacques Steinberg. “In second grade, for example, the average score in reading of a student classified as limited in English increased 9 percentage points over the last two years, to the 28th percentile from the 19th percentile in national rankings, according to the state. In mathematics, the increase in the average score for the same students was 14 points, to the 41st percentile from the 27th.”

Steinberg reports that Ken Noonan – whose mother, a Mexican, never learned English – “likened the change in his position on bilingual education over the last two years to a religious conversion.”

Noonan now says he was wrong about the initiative’s effect on Mexican and other Spanish-speaking youngsters in the state: “I thought it would hurt kids. The exact reverse occurred, totally unexpected by me. The kids began to learn – not pick up, but learn – formal English, oral and written, far more quickly than I ever thought they would…. Here are kids, within nine months in the first year, and they literally learned to read.”

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