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Bilingual Education


For decades, immigrant children have been taught in their native
languages in schools across the country while slowly and simultaneously
receiving English as a second language. But like anything, bilingual
education is not without its flaws. In fact, it\'s plagued with them.
After many years of bilingual education in the United States, one thing is
certain: it does not work, and it is failing America\'s immigrant youth.
The idea behind bilingual education is that students be taught
"academic subjects" such as math, geography, and science "in their native
languages (most often Spanish), while slowly and simultaneously adding
English instruction" (Rothstein 627). Students learn English as a second
language and learn all other subjects in their native language "so that, in
theory, they can keep up with their English- speaking peers" (Schrag 14).
After "five to seven years," the time "it typically takes... for children
to acquire the second- language skills needed for cognitive and academic
pursuits," the students are transitioned into classes which are taught in
English (Sjoerdsma 504K2721). This is, of course, how bilingual education
should work in theory. This is not, however, the case.
Critics of bilingual education say that "the objectives of the
classes are confused, the quality of instruction is poor," and the
"transition" time, when students transition into regular classes, is murky
(Schrag 14). Critics believe that the goals of bilingual education have
been forgotten and replaced with the need to "preserve native culture and
traditions" (Rothstein 627). In fact, the major defense from advocates of
bilingual education is that there is nothing wrong with preserving
children\'s ethnic and linguistic heritage.
It is important to have an understanding of English when living in
the United States, after all, "according to the 1990 census, 94 percent of
U. S. residents speak it, to some degree" (Sjoerdsma 504K2721). One cannot
learn English, however if one does not stay in school. Unfortunately, "one
recent national study found that students enrolled in bilingual programs
dropped out earlier" (Murr 65). Also, the percentage of students who make
the transition from bilingual to regular classes is very low. Last year in
California, for example, only about "6.7 percent of the non- English-
speakers moved into regular classes" (Murr 65). This is evidence that
bilingual education is not working. The problem is not just in California.
"Other states have similar low success rates" (Murr 65). Most of the focus
is on California, however, since 1.4 million of the nation\'s 3.2 million
LEP (limited English proficient) students live there.
In California, where "statewide, 140 languages are spoken by
students," people are fed up with the current bilingual education system
and have taken steps to change it with Proposition 227, which "will reduce
instruction in any language but English" (Schrag 14). Like everywhere else
in the country, most California LEP students are Hispanic. And even they
want an end to bilingual education. In fact, the results of a California
newspaper poll showed that "among Hispanic voters alone, 84 percent favored
and end" to bilingual education (West 48). "Most Hispanics think that
learning English is more important than instruction in their native
language" (Zuckermann 68). They also feel that they can spread their
native language on to their children themselves. All in all, "Hispanic
parents want what all parents want: quality educational programs that
produce results" (Amselle 53). The problem in California is that there
just are not enough bilingual teachers to "serve the states 1.4 million
limited- English students adequately" (Rodriguez 15). Too often, these
"bilingual" teachers have only a limited command for their students\'
language, a problem which is all too common across the country.
Even when teachers can be found, LEP students are not learning
English from them. There have been cases in which students who "had been
in bilingual classes for six years couldn\'t write a simple English
sentence" (Schrag 14). This is because there is very little contact with
English- speaking students. LEP students are segregated in classes taught
solely in Spanish. English class is not enough. These students, in order
to learn English, must mainstream with their English- speaking counterparts.
The few hours during recess, lunch, P. E., and music spent "mixing" with
English- speakers is far from adequate.
Students who don\'t learn English are not able to excel in school.
For that reason, many LEP students drop out. "The drop- out rate for all
Hispanic LEP students in the United States is 50 percent, much higher that
for any other group" (Amselle 52). Those who don\'t drop out of high school
will find it difficult, if not impossible, to find a good career which
doesn\'t require them to have some command of the English language.