LOS ANGELES – They said it couldn’t work. The entire education establishment was convinced that, without the convoluted programs of “bilingual education” they had invested so much in, Spanish-speaking children would never learn anything at all.
Well, not only is it working here after a remarkably orderly start just a year ago this month, but the new program of “structured English immersion” is working wonders. “English-only teaching is a surprise hit,” the Los Angeles Times was trumpeting as early as last January, as it meticulously followed the changes. “Bilingual-classes ban gets A in California” was the headline in a major Washington Times article this summer.
Most important, there is now undeniable proof that the English-immersion classes – and that means teaching overwhelmingly in English from the very beginning instead of teaching 90 percent in Spanish and expecting the students to somehow edge into English -have had stunning results. California’s Standardized Testing and Reporting scores, just published, show that last year the scores of English learners rose 18 percent in reading, 21 percent in mathematics, 15 percent in language, 21 percent in spelling and 19 percent overall.
Where English has been thoroughly implemented, and not grudgingly or incompletely as is the case in many school districts, the results are even more impressive.
In Oceanside, a pretty seaside community on the Pacific between Los Angeles and San Diego, for instance, School Superintendent Kenneth Noonan had long been a staunch supporter of bilingual education; in fact, he was the founding president of the California Association of Bilingual Educators. But when he was faced with Proposition 227, the citizen initiative that was passed in June 1998 and that voted down bilingual education by a 61 percent margin, Mr. Noonan, himself of Mexican descent, determined to do the best possible job with the new program, which he combined with basics and phonics programs.
Consequently, with a school population in which one-fifth were of “limited English proficiency,” scores in the Oceanside Unified School District went up a whopping 47 percent in this one year. In a few districts, some of the score improvements have been as much as 93 percent. And this in a California school system where, under the old bilingual program, only 6.7 percent of the 1.4 million California students with limited English proficiency were graduating to full proficiency every year.
What’s more, using a little-known part of Proposition 227, which provides for $50 million to help immigrant parents to learn English, parents are pouring into English-language classes, thus preparing them to really help their children with their schoolwork for the first time.
Such successes are being reported across the country. Indeed, The Washington Post ran a comprehensive article on how well immigrant children are doing under English immersion. Many were, after only a few years of their arrival in the United States, at the top of their classes. “They’ve arrived,” the headline read. “Forced to learn in English, many immigrants excel in school.”
Meanwhile, in states such as Arizona, which has one of the most disastrous bilingual education systems in the country, with a pitiful 7 percent of the students a year able to acquire English proficiency, a big fight over changing it has begun. As it is now, critics are calling it “bi-illiteracy.” The chairman of the state Senate’s education committee calls the whole pathetic process “mass-production criminality.”
Don’t get too excited, lest you think that this means the problem has been solved, or at least is being seriously addressed across the country.
We need to realize that we are dealing with the education establishment’s most ideological minds. They will tell you with faith and confidence that the sun comes up in the West. Approach at your own risk then.
At every turn, the bilingual establishment is trying to sabotage the changes wrought by Proposition 227, or “English for the children,” as it is called. Indeed, in a speech earlier this year, Eugene Garcia, former director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Bilingual Education Office, said that educators were doing everything possible to circumvent Proposition 227, that they were feigning compliance.
It is ideologues like these – who expect us to believe that one learns English by speaking Spanish – who have been in control. But, at least, no more.
Georgie Anne Geyer is a nationally syndicated columnist.