View from Lodi, CA: “Bilingual Education” Surviving — With Help From Bush


Assistant Secretary of Education

Susan Neuman
came to town this week to spend two
hours at the

Lodi Unified School District`s
Clairmont School in
north Stockton.

As a Lodi Adult School instructor,
I`ve taught a section of English as a second language at
Clairmont for

more than 10 years
. I was happy to see the
hard-working, devoted Clairmont teachers and staff get
their long overdue credit. That the kudos came from the
highest possible source, the Department of Education in
Washington, D.C. made the

moment more memorable
.

I hope Dr. Neuman noticed that the

multi-ethnic enrollment at Clairmont
—more than
twenty native languages and dialects spoken among the
K-6 population—was functioning just fine in English.
Clairmont has never offered

bilingual education
 to its students, though
teachers at the school are certificated in English
Language Development.

Neuman`s boss,

Secretary of Education Rod Paige
opposes ballot
proposals in Colorado and Massachusetts to end bilingual
education. Paige feels, despite the obvious success of
English immersion instruction, that the decision on the
relative amounts of English and native language
instruction should be made at the

“point of instruction.”

In other words, teachers, when
given parental consent, will decide how much English
instruction a child gets and when he gets it.

Paige echoes George W. Bush`s
sentiments about bilingual education. For Bush,

“No Child Left Behind”
should include

bilingual instruction
.

You`d expect that, when improved
test scores argue so convincingly for ending bilingual
education, the resistance would gradually fade away.
Instead, the controversy rages on.

At least one expert who favors ending bilingual
education,
Dr. Rosalie Pedalino
Porter
,
thinks that the conflict comes from not understanding
what an English immersion class is.

In an article published in the

Winter 2002
ProEnglish Advocate newsletter (www.proenglish.org)
Porter explains that immersion classes are not sink or
swim. Instead, such programs require highly trained
teachers, a special curriculum and textbooks and
classrooms made up exclusively of

English-language learners
.

And, putting to rest another claim
made by bilingual education advocates, Porter noted in a


Atlantic Monthly
article
that neither self-esteem is higher nor stress lower
among bilingual students.

The crucial aspect of immersion
classes is that students learn English from day one.
Basic survival vocabulary—name, address and telephone
number—is the first thing mastered. Shortly after that,
emphasis shifts to conversational fundamentals.

In my adult classes, after
experimenting with various combinations of English and
Spanish, I have found that when I stress English-only
from the beginning of the class, the results are
dramatically better.

But while bilingual education
officially died in California when Proposition 227
passed in 1998, it may slowly be making a comeback.

If parents are willing to sign a
waiver, their child can be educated in bilingual
classes. In areas like

Santa Ana
—92% Hispanic—many chose bilingual because
no English is spoken at home. Parents feel they cannot
help their children with homework if the classes are in
English.

And in Sacramento, the State Board
of Education—made up mostly of

Governor Gray Davis
appointees—is

considering
giving the final decision on where
non-English speaking students are placed back to the
bilingual education industry.

Said bilingual education advocate
Mary Hernandez, “The board`s intention is to let the
school chose rather than the parent.” This is in direct
violation of Proposition 227 and its success. Since
Proposition 227, elementary school scores increased 46%
in reading and 57% in math across all grade levels.

But Davis is rumored to be indebted
to the bilingual education crowd for its political
support and is considering letting it have its way.

Personally, I can`t get past the
irony of bilingual education. 

People voluntarily choose to come
to the U.S. – but then demand that taxpayers fund an
educational program to teach their children in their
native language.

Pardon me?

What happened to the common
language that unites all Americans? My grandparents,
father, mother, aunts and uncles could speak Italian.
But they never did. They spoke English to us and among
themselves.

And they were proud to speak English
.

As far as whether bilingual
education is good for kids or not, the often-repeated
truth heard from teachers and administrators is that
students

learn English faster
when they learn it from the
first day.

To be productive and successful in
America, English is the key.

Why

delay
the first step toward success?

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the


Lodi News-Sentinel
.