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Jewish World Review Sept. 15, 2000/ 14 Elul, 5760

Larry Elder

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Consumer Reports

Anti-education educrats -- WITH "EXPERTS" like these, bring on the amateurs.

In California, voters approved an initiative to end traditional bilingual education programs. Under the theory that non-English speakers require a "transition" into English fluency, educators assigned elementary students to bilingual education programs. The problem? After languishing in bilingual education for six to seven years -- or even longer -- only five percent of kids "transition" to mainstream English classes in any given year.

Apparently, the education establishment assumed these mostly Spanish-speaking kids incapable of mastering English the way generations of other non-English speakers did -- through total immersion.

But parents and voters grew increasingly fed up with the damage done to these children by assuming them dumb. They stormed to the polls to force change.

Oh, did the educrats scream. San Francisco School Superintendent Bill Rojas said, "It is our responsibility as educators to prevent bad policy from wreaking havoc on our instructional programs." Calling the new law "offensive" and "immoral," Rojas said he preferred incarceration over implementing the law!

"This would set our students back 30 years," said San Francisco school board President Carlota del Portillo. The day after the initiative passed, her board unanimously voted to disregard the law and continue bilingual education, joining a federal court lawsuit to block the new law.

Los Angeles school district bureaucrat Forrest Ross predicted catastrophe -- the mass failure among Latino students. He even suggested that these kids might lose their ability to speak to their own parents. "I think there's going to be a lot of (teacher) civil disobedience," predicted Carlos Pagan, a Ventura County elementary school principal. "That is the nature of the teacher, to help the student the best way he can. And if that means getting sued, they'll take that risk."

Arturo Selva, a first-grade teacher in East Los Angeles, proclaimed his intention to defy the law for the good of his students. "Once you close your (classroom) door," he said, "people who don't believe in English-only are going to sabotage it." Selva was one of 14,800 certified bilingual education teachers in California, a position that pays $5,000 more than English-only teachers. He admitted that passage of 227 "could wipe me out completely."

The Clinton administration weighed in, urging voters to reject the proposition. Education Secretary Richard Riley called the proposition "just plain wrong," predicting that "adoption of the ... amendment will lead to fewer children learning English and many children falling further behind in their studies." The Education Department's acting deputy secretary said, "The best data we have, the best research we have suggests that the one-year immersion structure ... is a major mistake."

The envelope, please.

Two years after the initiative passed, the former "bilingual education" kids saw their second-grade test scores in English increase 9 percentage points, going from the 19th percentile to the 28th percentile in national rankings. In math, the second-graders saw an increase of 14 points, from the 27th percentile to the 41st.

The experts were wrong. Ken Noonan, founder of the California Association of Bilingual Educators, admitted that he flat-out underestimated the ability of these kids to learn. "I thought it would hurt kids. The exact reverse occurred, totally unexpected by me. The kids began to learn -- not pick up, but learn -- formal English, oral and written, far more quickly than I ever thought they would." Well, well.

Jose Posada, a bilingual education coordinator at a Los Angeles elementary school, said, "I honestly didn't expect to see them achieve as well as they are doing. Many of us who believed in the bilingual education program were scared about the unknowns. Now we're saying, 'Well, maybe it's not so bad. Maybe it's time we start talking about the positives.'"

Yomy Duran, who teaches second grade, said, "I expected that their self-esteem would be affected, and that they would feel inhibited, give up easily. Instead, they are excited, motivated."

Many parents who requested English for their children reported that they were confronted by teachers and administrators who urged them to sign waivers for Spanish, an allowable circumvention of the law. In the school district of Vista, nearly half sought and received waivers. The nearby Oceanside district, however, accepted the voters' judgment and pushed immersion. The results? According to a recent article in the New York Times, " ... For the first time in recent memory, Oceanside is outpacing its archrival Vista."

Bilingual education makes the rather racist assumption that Hispanic kids are less capable than others. Bilingual education assumes their parents are less interested than other immigrants in whether and how their children learn English.

So, to the reforms resisted by the education establishment -- linking pay to performance, ending tenure, ending social promotion, firing bad teachers and principals -- add ending bilingual education. With experts like these, bring on the amateurs.

JWR contributor Larry Elder is the author of the newly released, The Ten Things You Can't Say in America. (Proceeds from sales help fund JWR) Let him know what you think of his column by clicking here.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate