Flawed 'compromise'

Bilingual bill would only continue the status quo

A bill purporting to revamp the state’s transitional bilingual education program offers schools a veritable menu of teaching methods.

The variety of alternative approaches includes the current format, English as a Second Language, immersion, two-way bilingual education and more. However, it seems motivated less by an appetite for substantive reform than by a desire to head off support for a November ballot question that would scrap the current system. In practice, this legislative ”compromise” would do little more than further embed the status quo.

That is because districts that might opt to switch to more effective methods for educating non-English-speaking pupils first would have to overcome the inertia of the entrenched system. The 30-year-old transitional bilingual education program is a veritable school system within the system with its own teachers, classrooms, teaching philosophies and methods, parents groups and so on. With all the other challenges facing public schools, it is doubtful many districts would be inclined to take on the challenge.

Proponents of the compromise bill cast it as an enlightened alternative to what they term a ”one-size-fits-all” approach of the ballot question. Unless a school district has the resources to adopt a range of methods, the notion of bilingual education tailored to pupils’ individual needs is an illusion- one-size-fits-all dressed in a different garment.

The ”English immersion program” of the ballot question would focus education for non-English speakers on a single overarching goal: to provide students with the language proficiency they need to move into the English-speaking mainstream with all practical speed.

A similar, successful initiative in California has had stunning results. Standardized test results show that the approximately 1 million public school students identified as ”limited English speakers” have shown significant and, in some cases, sensational, progress.

Bilingual education was intended to be a short-term, transitional program. But the current system segregates students for up to three years, and frequently more, from mainstream courses and classmates. Supporters of the transitional bilingual program are only fooling themselves if they believe that these students are receiving the same education as their English-speaking peers. ”Separate but equal”- even if it were equal- does not work as an educational model.

It is regrettable that the decision on such an important issue must be made by ballot initiative. However, for years the Legislature has been unable to muster the political will for change- as the illusory ”compromise” reform now on the table once again illustrates.

The core mission of public schools is to give all students the skills needed to succeed in school and society. Standardized test results, minority dropout rates and many other indicators suggest transitional bilingual education has fallen short.

Legislation that truly would reform the current system, albeit belatedly, would moot the November ballot question. A ”compromise” that leaves intact the status quo does not make the grade.

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