Article Published in the School Reform News
Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a recent proposal by State Senator Guy Glodis (D) to essentially eliminate bilingual education programs. Currently, the state’s English learners are taught in bilingual classes in their non-English native language for three to five years.
The Glodis plan would require that all students be placed in English-language classrooms, and where necessary, temporary transition programs using a sheltered English immersion approach would be employed for up to one year.
The new bill is modeled after California’s Proposition 227 which passed decisively in 1998. Since than, several other states have approved significant reforms of bilingual programs. Most recently, Connecticut passed a law in 1999 placing a 30-month limit on transitional bilingual education programs and requiring schools to annually assess the progress of English learners.
Early last year, the Massachusetts Board of Education reversed a policy whereby English learners were regularly excluded from the Iowa reading test. Currently all public school students will be required to pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System in the 10th grade, beginning in 2003.
Glodis explained, “Hispanics are our largest segment of English learners. Yet they have the lowest test scores, the highest dropout rates, and the lowest college acceptances of any language minorities. This bill is about helping Hispanic young people by giving them the opportunities they need to succeed.”
The U.S. Senate is currently considering unprecedented reforms of federal bilingual education programs as part of its Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization.
In October the U.S. House of Representatives approved important bilingual reform legislation as part of H.R. 2, its Title I ESEA reauthorization bill for disadvantaged students. The House reforms, led by Education Committee Chairman Bill Goodling and Arizona Representative Matt Salmon, require school districts to provide vital information about such programs to parents and to obtain their consent before children are placed in bilingual or other programs tailored for English learners. They also eliminate the current rule which mandates that at least 75% of federal bilingual dollars be spent to support instruction in students’ non-English native languages, with the remainder reserved for “alternative” programs – classes that teach English in English. “It’s very serious,” NEA lobbyist Isabelle Garcia told the Denver Post before the House vote.
As Senate Education Committee Members draft their ESEA package, two other prominent plans are being discussed. The first, by Connecticut Democrat Joseph Lieberman, proposes significant funding increases while including a number of important reform measures such as requiring informed parental consent for placement in bilingual programs, mandating that teachers of English learners be fluent in English, and placing a three-year limit on federally-funded programs, with drastic cuts in funding for failure to achieve objectives (developed by states) within that allotted time. Last year, a Connecticut plan was signed into law placing a 30-month limit on transitional bilingual education programs.
Republican Senators, meanwhile, have focused their efforts on passing the reforms approved in the House. Senators Paul Coverdell (GA) and Jon Kyl (AZ) are reportedly moving forward with their draft plan based on the parental consent and notification provisions passed in the House. Republican Senate Education Committee members have discussed interest in ending the 75-25 rule as part of the ESEA reauthorization plan they are currently writing.
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