Syracuse Post-Standard

Tuesday, June 9, 1998

Save What Works
Californians have decided bilingual education is bad. At Delaware and Seymour elementary schools in Syracuse, the evidence suggests otherwise.

THE CURRENT ATTACK on bilingual education in California is disturbing.

Proposition 227, a California measure which favors ending bilingual education, passed with more than 60 percent of the vote last week. It could mean the end of such programs in that state and others, a development which lies in stark contrast to the results of a major, federally funded report released in March by the National Research Council. The report supports the bilingual approach because of its effectiveness.

Thank goodness that our own elementary schools, such as Delaware and Seymour, show no signs of losing their successful programs. They help their Spanish-speaking students learn, period. Students also benefit from a part of their culture (language), an experience often lacking in our schools and schoolbooks.

Bilingual education primarily points students firmly in the direction of English from first through sixth grades, after which they should be fluent. It does so, of course, because English is the language of commerce, the language in this country that most everyone needs to master in order to compete for jobs and in business.

But it does so in a way that eases the transition.

Opponents of bilingual education promote a "total immersion" program. It works for some. For others, it does not. Fanny Villareal de Canavan, executive director of the Spanish Action League, says immersion sometimes backfires because students don't learn in English or in Spanish.

The bilingual emphasis is required by New York state for schools with large numbers of non-English speakers. At Delaware, one-third of the students are Latino and a quarter speak limited English.

"The goal of bilingual education is to be truly bilingual -- to be on par with your peers in English and also ensure that you are speaking Spanish, that you haven't lost that," said Delaware Principal Milagros Escalera to reporter Paul Riede, who wrote last week's five-part series on urban education.

With the efforts of some colleges and others to save the many Native American languages now dead or dying out, it is important that children whose families speak other non-English languages maintain that root. While it may not be the schools' role to preserve cultures, using students' culture can serve the purpose of education well. Bilingual education's success at Delaware and around the country can be considered proof of that.