Bilingual education has become a program by the adults, of the adults and for the adults. There is no other way to explain the continued growth of an education fad so flawed that even the man who wrote the bill imposing it in 1974 would like to see its demise.
But teachers and school administrators seem to be totally sold on the program, never questioning whether it really works.
In Waco, Texas, hearts at the local school district are all a-flutter because the district needs up to 60 new bilingual instructors. In Waco, where about half of the children in school are Hispanic, administrators like “Bilingual Director” Betty Johnston find themselves trapped in a maze of government rules. On the one hand, those who teach English as a Second language (ESL) don’t have to be fluent in English and Spanish, but the bilingual teachers do.
So the Waco, Texas schooldistrict — and hundreds of others — look for out-of-country recruits. But many of those speak no English, and so that leads to a need for translators. All of this “compassion” for the children and the myriad government regulations serve to drive up salaries for those who qualify — and costs to the taxpayers.
At about $12 billion per year, these programs are pricey, indeed.
If bilingual education worked better than a common sense approach such as English immersion, it might be worth the cost. But it doesn’t work — and that brings us back to the congressman who started it all some 33 years ago.
That would be Herman Badillo who now calls himself an “ex-liberal,” and laments the fact that bilingual education has become monolingual. And it’s not just Badillo saying that: parents are saying it, too. One describes the situation in an elementary school cafeteria where all the students in the serving line, and the teacher, spoke only Spanish. Another tells of a field trip to the local zoo in which only Spanish was spoken.
So is bilingual education intended to transition non-English-speaking children into English, or not? The answer is too often NOT. Even when Spanish-speaking kids learn English, the system does what it can to keep them in bilingual classes. A case-in-point is a February, 2007 study by the Pacific Research Institute where 47 percent of “English language learners” did well enough in testing to be classified as fluent in English. But local schools in California found ways to keep them in bilingual classes.
Of course, it’s about money. The more children there are in bilingual programs, the more federal money rolls in. And big money means lobbying groups become necessary to protect the interests of those who get the dollars.
The main lobbying group is the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE), whose web site proudly states “bilingualism for all” and which advocates on behalf of ESL and bilingual education as Congress looks to reauthorize Mr. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program. In calling for the reauthorization, NABE lists eleven principles, three of which begin with the words “increase funding.”
Organizations such as NABE have become very important to those who make their livings in ESL and bilingual classrooms. Voter initiatives seeking to rid their states of the bilingual education nuisance have scored big victories in California, Arizona, and Massachusetts. The bilingual lobby then must step in with court action to prevent the will of the people (including a lot of Hispanic people) from being implemented. In Colorado, the bilingual lobby spent millions to defeat a ballot measure.
And even in states that supposedly do away with bilingual education, schools often grant waivers or simply ignore the law. After Ron Unz’s “English for the Children” passed in California, only the Oceanside ISD made an attempt at full compliance. Not quite a year into English immersion in Oceanside, published reports described the results as “dramatic.” Reading scores zoomed up 56 percent for third-graders and rose a staggering 475 percent for seventh-graders. Then-superintendent Kenneth Noonan, who had founded the California Association of Bilingual Educators, was astounded. “This is not news the bilingual industry is interested in hearing,” he said.
Unfortunately the “bilingual industry,” as Noonan called it, is not interested in facts. When an education program has failed so completely after more than three decades in the classroom that it can only be sustained through the efforts of state and federal lobbying groups, it’s time to say “no mas.”