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Traditional Bilingual Education: Immigrants Ticket to the American Underclass It is a fact that no educational program is without its flaws. It is also true that the common goal of all bilingual educators is to teach English to immigrants. Whether they support traditional bilingual education, (TBE) programs, where the aim is “to teach academic subjects to immigrant children in their native languages (most often Spanish), while slowly and simultaneously adding English instruction,”1 or structured English immersion, (SEI) or English as a Second Language, (ESL) programs, where the students are immersed in classes with all books, materials and instruction in English from day one of their education. The objectives are clear and apparent for all bilingual education, to set immigrants on the path to English fluency, insuring that they have a vital tool that they will need to prosper in the United States. However,

Do Not Copy or Distribute Without Expressed Consent of Tasha C. Miller traditional bilingual education with its denial of the “time-on-task” principle, where students learn by doing and its misguided goals, where traditional bilingual education tries to do more than educate, has failed our immigrants.

Low mainstreaming rates (when students leave

bilingual education for English only instruction) and high drop out rates suggest that if traditional bilingual education is not abandoned, it will continue to stifle the prosperity of Hispanic immigrants who are soon to be 20% of the population of the United States.

Traditional bilingual education’s denial of the “time on task” principle has proven

detrimental to a group of people that bilingual education was intended to provide for. “Time on

task” states that the more time a student is immersed in a subject, the better and the quicker the

subject will be learned and the quicker that student will become capable or as in the case of English, fluent. Those in favor of traditional bilingual education believe that not English, but native language instruction over the course of several years will enable students to become proficient in English. The low mainstreaming and high drop out rates of traditional bilingual education students prove this to be wrong. Dr. Rosalie Pedalino Porter, Chairman of the Massachusetts Commission on Bilingual Education, and a bilingual educator for over 20 years explains in her book, Forked Tongue: The Politics of Bilingual Education (1990) “Children learn what they are taught, and if they are

taught mainly in Spanish for several years, their Spanish-language skills will be far better than their English language ones. Effective “time on task” is, as educators know is the greatest

predictor of educational achievement; this is at least as true, if not more so, for lowsocioeconomic-level, limited-English students."2 In the average traditional bilingual education classroom there is less than 60 minutes of English instruction per day.3 Native language instruction in other subjects take up the remainder of daily classroom activities. This lack of exposure to English gives immigrants the false sense that becoming fluent is not necessary in order to be productive or successful. This is especially true of immigrants who live in large cities in self contained immigrant communities. I’ve seen first hand while living in a predominately Dominican neighborhood in New York City, Hispanic immigrant students who leave school and go home to “linguistic ghettos”4 populated mostly by Spanish speakers.

Do Not Copy or Distribute Without Expressed Consent of Tasha C. Miller Stores and other businesses owned by non English speaking immigrants flood their

community, from the small “mom and pop” shops to large chain stores, they are all owned and operated by immigrants who can only communicate in their native language.

They have

managed to navigate the system well enough to open and maintain their own establishments but

still somehow, do not speak basic, essential English. Immigrant students then go home to non-

English speaking households where is no motivation to learn English. They have segregated and

boxed themselves into these communities where they can not communicate with English speakers, I can only imagine the lost of revenue to these businesses as I, myself have walked out

of several stores because of the combination of my not speaking more than a few words of Spanish and the shopkeeper not speaking a word of English made any type of transaction impossible.

This barrier, their lack of English fluency undoubtedly puts a cap on the

immigrant’s economic potential, even for those who are labeled as successful as compared to their peers. “Time on task” is essential to all bilingual education, be it traditional, structured English immersion or English as a Second Language. Time spent learning, speaking and reading English is crucial if immigrants want to reach their full potential and take advantage of all that the U.S has to offer. They can only go so far if they don’t and will never be successful outside of their immediate communities. For the majority of immigrants, if they don’t learn English in school, where will they learn it?

In addition to traditional bilingual education’s denial of “time on task” it has undertaken the misguided goal of trying to supply more than an education to the immigrant community. Richard Rodriguez, Mexican-American author of Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, professor of literature, and commentator on U.S culture. “My grandmother always told me that I was hers, that I was Mexican. That was her role. It was not my teacher’s role to tell me I was Mexican. It was my teacher’s role to tell me I was American. The notion that you go to a public institution in order to learn private information about yourself is absurd.”5 Traditional bilingual education was initially established not only to teach English but to aid in uplifting the low self images that plagued Hispanic immigrants.

Do Not Copy or Distribute Without Expressed Consent of Tasha C. Miller “The school has again but one way, and that is, first and last, to teach them to read, write

and count. And if the school fails to do that, and tries beyond that to do something for which a school is not adapted, it not only fails in its own function, but it fails in all other attempted functions.”6 W.E.B. Dubois.

These words from W.E.B. Dubois though not speaking to bilingual education directly but

to all education, speaks volumes. A great deal of traditional bilingual instruction is spent on

building up the immigrant’s self esteem and working to instill pride in their heritage and culture. This is not the responsibility of bilingual education, this is duty of parents, the extended family

and, if applicable, the church. Pure and simple the only goal should be to teach non-native speakers English. As it stands, traditional bilingual education does nothing well and fails those

who have come to the United States seeking a better life. A good education and fluency in English is the foundation on which all immigrants need to build upon.

Traditional bilingual education’s denial of “time on task’ and misguided goals has led students to low mainstreaming and high drop out rates. The rates of mainstreaming students into English only classrooms are significantly lower in traditional bilingual education programs than in structured English immersion. The numbers imply a direct correlation to their higher drop out rates.

Students who are “stuck” in traditional bilingual education programs, and not

expeditiously mainstreamed into English only instruction become discouraged and frustrated with school and drop out. In the essay “The Politics of Bilingual Education,” Porter argues that

bilingual education does not work and should be abandoned. Porter’s ideas are strong and the data she uses from various studies serves as convincing evidence.

The bulk of her data comes from several research projects and studies on bilingual and ESL education programs across the country, from California to Texas to New York. Including The GAO Study, the U.S. General Accounting Office’s study Limited-English Proficiency: A Growing and Costly Educational Challenge Facing Many School Districts. Here are just a couple of her findings: •

The Board of Education of the City of New York’s, Educational Progress of Students in

Do Not Copy or Distribute Without Expressed Consent of Tasha C. Miller Bilingual and ESL Programs: A Longitudinal Study, 1990-1994. "at all grade levels,

students served in ESL-only programs exited their programs faster than those served in bilingual programs." The three-year exit rates were as follows: For ESL-only programs, the

exit rates were 79.3 percent, 67.5 percent, and 32.7 percent for students who entered school in grades kindergarten, 2, and 6, respectively; for bilingual programs, the exit rates were 51.5 percent, 22.1 percent, and 6.9 percent, respectively.7

Meeting the Challenge of Language Diversity: An Evaluation of Programs for Pupils with Limited Proficiency in English, The California Stud. "California's high school dropout rates in June 1995 amounted to a statewide average of 5 percent per year, or a four-year average of 20 percent of students leaving school before graduation. Discouraging as that seems, the dropout rate for Latino students statewide is even higher--28 percent, compared to 10 percent for Asian students and 12 percent for white students.8

These numbers suggest that traditional bilingual education is not an effective method of educating our immigrants. Champions of traditional bilingual education even confess to the programs malfunctions. Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, and professor of public policy, “Bilingual education supporters may claim that it aims to teach English, but high dropout rates for immigrant children and low rates of transition to full English instruction prove that, even if educators' intentions are genuine, the program is a failure.”

Those in favor of native language instruction argue that bilingual education is not the sole factor in the high drop out rate of Hispanic students. They attribute the numbers to bad, and sometimes racist teachers, the students lack of exposure to the English language outside of school, their failure to see how English can better their future and the abundance of single parent homes that don’t foster learning or staying in school.9

Bilingual education needs to immerse students in the English language, incorporate a tougher screening process of teachers and educate immigrants on American civilization, not just what it takes to survive in this country but what it takes to succeed.

Do Not Copy or Distribute Without Expressed Consent of Tasha C. Miller Structured English immersion all too often is mistakenly referred to as the “sink or swim”

method of learning the English Language. The core principle of English immersion is “time on

task,” a direct contradiction to traditional bilingual education. Non native speakers are fully immersed in learning English with little native language instruction. Immersion teaches the

English language and other subjects all at the same time. Trained teachers use specialized

curriculum and materials. The teachers who must be fluent in the students native language teach

only in English but at levels the children can understand. “The goal is the rapid and effective

integration of limited-English students in mainstream classrooms with their English speaking classmates. That is a far superior approach than segregating Spanish-speaking students in nativelanguage instruction classrooms for most of the school day and for several years.”10

In Porter’s “The Politics of Bilingual Education,” the statistics from The Institute for

Research in English Acquisition and Development’s, The El Paso Bilingual Immersion Project, demonstrate the success of English immersion as compared to traditional bilingual education. “by grade 6, 99 percent of immersion students were mainstreamed; at end of 7th grade, 35 percent of traditional bilingual education students are still in the bilingual program.”11 While the government and public school systems fumble around in an attempt to establish a bilingual education program that they believe works best for non English speaking immigrants, a system of evaluation and choice should be introduced. Individual assessments should be made by the school system of all incoming immigrants. Students should be tested for

proficiency in English as well as their native language. If they are not fluent in their native tongue, what would lead us to believe they will be successful learning English? Upon evaluating the student’s competency, the school administration along with the student, (if of age) and the parents should decide what program would fulfill the child’s needs and develop an individual plan for that child with a target date that the student will be mainstreamed into an English-only curriculum. Traditional bilingual education as it stands today does not work, and there is little proof that it has worked in it’s 30 plus year history in the United States. No wonder Massachusetts, California and Arizona have banned it from their states in favor of English immersion programs. “Since Latino immigration – legal or illegal – is likely to continue in the future and since Latino

Do Not Copy or Distribute Without Expressed Consent of Tasha C. Miller fertility levels are high, the Latino population will grow.” According to Hoover Economist

Edward Lazear, “the economic costs of not adequately educating Hispanics will be great, and

their economic well-being will be lower than if they were to stay in school longer and focused on English.”12 There are more Hispanics in bilingual education than any other portion of the

immigrant population. 80% of the United States non English speakers are Hispanic and they have the lowest exposure to English outside of the classroom than any other immigrants.

“After six years of TBE one student wrote: I my parens per mi in dis shool en I so I feol

essayrin too old in the shool my border o reri can gier das mony putni gire and I sisairin aliro

sceer. This is incomprehensible in either Spanish or English. The parents say the school district claims the boy is doing fine and is nearly ready to leave bilingual classes.”13 As the United

States moves toward declaring English as the “official” or “national” language, immigrants who have languished in traditional bilingual education and are not fluent in English will struggle. And who will pay? Not only will the immigrants pay, but society will as well. Traditional bilingual education is not only the ticket to the academic underclass it’s the immigrant’s ticket to the American underclass. 1

From Richard Rothstein, “Bilingual Education: The Controversy,” Phi Delta Kappan (May 1998). Adapted from The Way We Were? (Century Foundation Press, 1998). Copyright © 1998 by The Century Foundation, Inc. 2 Rosalie Pedalino Porter, Forked Tongue: The Politics of Bilingual Education (1990), pg 63-4 3 – The Struggle for Bilingual Education 4


A View From the Melting Pot: An Interview With Richard Rodriguez. Interview adapted from the radio series Insight & Outlook. It appeared in the August 1997 issue of The Sun magazine under the title "Crossing Borders." 6 – The Struggle for Bilingual Education The Politics of Bilingual Education , By: Porter, Rosalie Pedalino, Society, 0147-2011, September 1, 1997, Vol. 34, Issue 6 8 The Politics of Bilingual Education , By: Porter, Rosalie Pedalino, Society, 0147-2011, September 1, 1997, Vol. 34, Issue 6 9 – The Struggle for Bilingual Education 7


Rosalie Pedalino Porter, INSIGHT, Telegram & Gazette. Worcester, Mass.: Sep 2, 2001. pg. C.2


The Politics of Bilingual Education , By: Porter, Rosalie Pedalino, Society, 0147-2011, September 1, 1997, Vol. 34, Issue 6 12 – The Struggle for Bilingual Education 13 – The Struggle for Bilingual Education

Do Not Copy or Distribute Without Expressed Consent of Tasha C. Miller

Traditional Bilingual Education  

proficient in English. The low mainstreaming and high drop out rates of traditional bilingual common goal of all bilingual educators is to t...

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