Bilingual Education

.. e Research in English Acquisition and Development (READ) in Washington D.C, the longer the learning of a second language is delayed, the more difficult it becomes (qtd. in Smith, The Battle 32). In addition to her comment in Electronic Learning, Porter told Insight her beliefs about bilingual education: Bilingual education programs which teach students entirely in their native language from five to seven years to provide transition to English do not work. They do not result, as promised to do, in better learning of English or other subjects.

(Goode 17) Although Porter does not argue that a student can not learn a second language early and still continue native language development, her statement demonstrates the importance of switching students out of bilingual education as soon as they are capable of handling the work. First of all, the bilingual education programs in the United States are designed to last approximately five to seven years (Amselle 53). However, research shows that it can take an estimated two to three years to attain the basic communication skills in English that are necessary to supply the content area knowledge and academic skills used in a classroom setting (Lucas and Katz 537). Because there is a measurable difference between the three and seven years of instruction, some students who learn faster than others could be kept in the program longer than they should be. A seemingly simple solution to this problem could be to exit the program when adequate English fluency is attained, but studies have shown that making such transitions are not as easy as they seem.

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For example, an assistant principle in New York admitted to allowing students to graduate without achieving literacy in either Spanish or English (Chavez and Amselle 105). In fact, he admitted that the students in the programs are not allowed to leave the programs when they are ready even if they request it themselves (Chavez and Amselle). Another prime example of students being kept in bilingual education programs too long is demonstrated in the case against the New York State Commissioner of Education (Goode 17). The Bushwick Parents Association, which represents 150 families in Brooklyn, claims that tens of thousands of immigrant children in New York City have been permitted to languish for six years in bilingual classes, learning neither English nor other subjects very well (Goode 17). As the previous examples suggest, in many programs, not only are some students kept in programs longer than they need to be, they are also not allowed to exit the program when adequate English literacy skills are acquired. Most importantly, if instruction in one’s native language lasts too long, then a student who is ready for immersion into the English-only classes will be held back from potential progress.

Instead of excelling in English like they would be capable of doing, these students would remain unchallenged in the bilingual education classes. The material would simply be too easy for them. Addressing this issue is Linda Chavez, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity (Learn English 6). First she notes that prominent bilingual education advocates claim that learning to read first in one’s native language is necessary in learning to read in a second language (Learn English 6). Then, clarifying her view on the subject, Chavez states, in practice this often means that limited-English proficient children will be kept in bilingual programs for years (qtd.

in Learn English 6). In Chavez’s statement, she directs attention to the problems that arise too many times in bilingual education: students are kept in the system too long. For example, in Hal Netkin’s English Not Taught here printed in the Wall Street Journal, he tells how he kept a young boy named Ulises from being held back in a bilingual education program when he was capable of advancing to the English-only classes (Netkin 18). He states that he received a call from the school’s bilingual coordinator who told him that Ulises was not ready for the English only classes and should continue to take the bilingual courses (Netkin18). However, Netkin notes that Ulises spoke English better than he spoke his native tongue (18).

In order to observe the benefits of bilingual education programs, he was invited to the second grade classroom (Netkin 18). Upon observing how the class worked, he was outraged by the teaching methods used (Netkin 18). He noted that the native speakers were taught in one half of the room as a translator translates the lessons into Spanish for the remaining half of the class (Netkin 18). He then refused to let Ulises continue to take these classes because he was perfectly capable of entering the English curriculum, and this type of instruction would not benefit him at all (Netkin 18). Therefore, according to Netkin, because Ulises’ bilingual education was ceased as soon as he was ready for the transition, he went on to become a student proficient in English.

Without the timely exit from the program, Ulises may have had to languish in a program that no longer served his needs. This example fully demonstrates how easily a student’s needs can be overlooked and unfilled in many bilingual education programs that last too long. Although many times students needs are not met in the bilingual education programs, there are times when the proper instruction and length of programs provide an adequate and often superior quality of education. The Spanish Dual Literacy program at Liberty High School is again a positive example of a successful program. The program, which is intended to prepare limited English students for transition into the mainstream high school, combines successful teaching methods with end-of-semester placement to ensure success and advancement of its students (Marsh 413).

The program, which on average usually lasts six months to one year, fits a student’s needs because of its flexibility in the length of instruction (Marsh 409). In order to determine the end-of-semester placement, the Mini-School teachers evaluate the academic and social progress of each student (Marsh 413). This type of evaluation prevents a student from remaining in a particular level when he or she his ready to move on. Programs that have evaluation systems like those of Liberty High School will have a better chance at ensuring student success. Considering all of these issues, some of the current bilingual education programs are proven to have flaws that can severely hinder a student’s learning of the English language.

The brief portraits of the exemplary programs that contain qualified bilingual education teachers and the flexibility to allow limited English proficient students to exit the program when adequate English skills are acquired are excellent examples of how quality programs can benefit such students. Unfortunately, many of the current programs do not fit that profile. They are structured so that students spend an average of five to seven years in programs that may or may not have qualified teachers to implement the most successful methods of instruction. If educators and policy makers take the challenge of educating the limited English proficient students in good faith and giving informed consideration to strategies that can contribute to meaningful educational experiences, perhaps they can move beyond the emotionally and politically heated debate that opposes English-only instruction to native language instruction. With this change in focus, they will be able to concentrate on what methods and structures work best and how to improve the current systems.

Bibliography Works Cited h Chavez, Linda, and Jorge Amselle. Bilingual Education Theory and Practice: Its Effectiveness and Parental Opinions. NAASP Bulletin 81.586 (1997): 101-106. h Goode, Stephen. Immersion Teaching Means Learning in Any Language.

Insight On the News 12.14 (1996): 17. h Lucas, Tamara, and Anne Katz. Reframing the Debate: The Roles of Native Languages in English-Only Programs for Language Minority Students”. TESOL Quarterly 28.3 (1994): n. pag.

h Marsh, Leona. A Spanish Dual Literacy Program: Teaching the Whole Student. The Bilingual Research Journal 19.3 (1995): 409-428. h Medina, Suzanne L. K-6 Bilingual Programs in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area.

The Bilingual Research Journal 19.3 (1995): 629-640. h Netkin, Hal. English Not Taught Here. The Wall Street Journal 24 July 1997: 18. h ACLU. http://www.aclu.org/library/pbp6.html.

1996. h National Education for Bilingual Education. http://www.nabe.org/press/index.html.