Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, February 11, 1998
Test Question No. 1: Define Bilingual Education
Unz initiative: The debate is starting off with a lot of 'facts'
that need clarification.
By YVONNE FREEMAN, DAVID FREEMAN
"Children in bilingual education are being taught all day in Spanish.
They will never learn English that way!" "More than 1.3 million
children in California are in bilingual education." "Bilingual
education costs the taxpayers billions each year."
Statements like these fuel a new initiative
that Californians will vote on in June. The initiative is sponsored by
English for the Children, an organization launched for this purpose by
millionaire software developer Ron Unz, with Orange County teacher Gloria
Matta Tuchman. It is based on a great deal of misinformation about bilingual
While solid research supports bilingual education,
many misconceptions, such as those above, persist.
* Students in bilingual programs do get instruction
in English; the law requires it.
Opponents of bilingual education complain
that children with limited proficiency in English who are in bilingual
programs spend all their class time learning in their first language. Those
people forget that bilingual means "two languages." When there
is a proficient bilingual teacher in a bilingual classroom, students may
be taught content in their first language, but must have English language
development classes daily. In true bilingual classrooms, students keep
up in academic subjects like science through study in their first language,
but even in bilingual classrooms, the typical amount of instruction not
in English is less than one hour a day.
* Only a minority of non-English speakers
are in bilingual classrooms, not the large numbers suggested by supporters
of the Unz initiative.
In California last year there were 1.3 million
students with limited English proficiency in grades kindergarten through
12. The state school census reported that only 30% of these students received
instruction in their primary languages. Even this estimate is high. In
many classrooms listed as bilingual, the teacher is not truly bilingual,
and therefore most instruction is in English.
The supply of proficient bilingual teachers
in California has never met the demand. Every year since 1993, California
has needed about 21,000 more bilingual teachers than were available. In
1997, there were only 13,548 credentialed bilingual teachers, when 34,375
* Bilingual education does not cost billions
of taxpayer dollars. In 1997, California's total K-12 education budget
was $26.8 billion. Of that, the amount budgeted for bilingual instruction
was $96 million, or 0.4% of the total. For special services for all students
with limited English proficiency, California allotted $319 million, or
1.2% of the total education budget. This figure is certainly not high when
you consider that English is not the primary language of 24% of all school-age
children in California.
The "English for the Children"
initiative seeks to solve a problem that doesn't exist. Research supports
bilingual education, but true bilingual education has been difficult to
implement in California. The number of students in bilingual classes is
smaller than what the initiative's backers claim. The amount of primary
language spoken in bilingual classes is less than is claimed. And the money
spent on bilingual classes is much lower than one would expect.
Voters in the June primary should look at
the facts before they commit California to the prescriptions of two activists.
Yvonne Freeman and David Freeman are faculty members at Fresno Pacific
University Graduate School, where she directs the Bilingual Cross-cultural
Program and he directs the Teachers of English as a Second Language and
Language Development programs.