Although the stated federal goal for minority-language students is that they learn English, for approximately two decades federal policies have promoted the rather narrow “transitional bilingual education” approach.
This lack of immersion in English is contrary to the intent of the original Bilingual Education Act.
One of the act’s sponsors, Rep. James Scheuer (D., N.Y.), stated: “I remember very well that it was clearly intended . . . to be a pressure cooker exposure for the kids (to learn English) from foreign language homes.”
Without developing a command of English, not only are minority-language students potentially limiting their prospects for employment in certain job fields and regions of the United States, they are limiting the level of employment they might attain.
As Mariah deForest, a senior consultant with a management consulting firm in Chicago, explained in The Tribune: “When it comes to higher-level jobs –advancement–they (Hispanics) are severely handicapped; they cannot perform well because they are not equipped to deal with the technical, English-language requirements of supervision and other responsible positions.”
At the state level, however, there are some encouraging signs. Colorado’s English Language Proficiency Act emphasizes local option in choosing the most appropriate educational method for serving minority-language students. Virginia passed a law declaring English the official language and stating, “School boards shall have no obligation to teach the standard curriculum in a language other than English.”
Research has shown that economic success is related to education and mastery of English. The 1980 Veltman study of job market discrimination against Hispanics found that poor economic performance among Hispanics could be accounted for by their low educational level and lack of mastery of English.
Similarly, a 1984 University of Michigan study indicated that education plays a leading role in determining how successfully Mexican-Americans will be assimilated into American life. The study found a strong correlation between the degree of assimilation and salary earned.
The movement today toward the immersion of minority-language students in the English language is extremely healthy. It will give Hispanics and other minority-language children possibly one of the greatest civil rights of all –that of an equal economic opportunity.
Point of view. D.L. Cuddy is a senior associate with the Office of Educational Research and Improvement in the U.S. Department of Education.