Washington Times

Monday, July 20, 1998

The Damage of Bilingual Education

Over the past 30 years, the federal government has spent $4.4 billion on federal bilingual education programs, and we still don't know what works. The National Academy of Sciences recently published an analysis of all the research conducted on bilingual education. The results come as no surprise: More research is needed to determine what types of programs are most effective.

But the 3 million limited and non-English speaking students enrolled in these federal programs know that federal bilingual education doesn't work. Why? Federal bilingual education programs emphasize native language instruction, not English. They also keep children and teenagers trapped in programs for years. Goals and results are rarely emphasized. Most studies show that native language based programs are no better, or even worse, than doing nothing.

Rather than mandating that funds be spent on bilingual education programs of unproven effectiveness, it is time that Congress pass legislation like The English Language Fluency Act, H.R. 3892, that fundamentally reforms Federal bilingual education programs.

The English Language Fluency Act, which the House of Representatives is expected to take up this month, gives power back to parents and back to states where it belongs. Congress would provide parents in every state the right to choose whether or not their children participate in bilingual education programs; allow state and local governments to choose the types of English language instruction provided to limited English speaking students; and help those students to learn English in a maximum of three years, thereby enabling them to achieve the same high level of academic success as their English-speaking peers.

If enacted, the bill would take power away from Washington bureaucrats meddling with students' educations because they think they know what's best. They don't. Just ask the thousands of parents, teachers and academics who agree that current bilingual education programs do their children greater harm than good.

"My children learn Spanish in school so they can grow up to be busboys and waiters. I teach them English at home so they can grow up to be doctors and lawyers," said Ernesto Ortiz, a rancher in South Texas. Another Hispanic parent, Jura Sherwood of Medford, Oregon said, "It is nothing less than subtle racism to suggest that Hispanic children are incapable of being educated in English."

These parents know a bad program when they see it. And, Miss Sherwood's statement rings frighteningly true, especially considering the following statistics:

* One-third of all Hispanic students fail to finish high school;

* The drop out rate in California for Hispanics is 50 percent; and,

* Last year, only one out of every 15 students in bilingual classes learned enough English to transfer into classes taught in English.

Given these statistics, we should not keep funding the status quo in federal bilingual education programs. Without vast improvements in our bilingual education programs, these students will continue to fall through the education cracks and into lives of great frustration while their peers, due mainly to the advantage of being raised in homes where English is spoken, will more easily and readily achieve the American dream. Why punish children with do nothing bilingual education programs when there are alternatives?

When parents try to find these alternatives themselves by asking that their children be removed from bilingual education classrooms, their requests are denied. Their children never obtain the practical education they need to compete in the U.S. job market while their parental powers are stripped from them.

This is alarming considering, for example, nearly 25 percent of California's students are segregated into bilingual programs where they are trapped. Last year 70 immigrant families were forced to boycott a Los Angeles school for two weeks before their children were allowed to take classes in English. California recently passed Proposition 227, reforming bilingual education, for reasons like these.

Unfortunately, President Clinton has decided to work against our legislation. But, the people of California have spoken and they overwhelmingly believe that reform is needed. Parents in Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois also have expressed many concerns about bilingual education programs.

By passing legislation that would end the disgrace of the current bilingual education system Congress will be giving millions of students the chance to succeed. Now that's the way to do something that is good for students, parents and local schools.

Rep. Bill Goodling, Pennsylvania Republican, is chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and Rep. Frank Riggs, California Republican, is chairman of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families.