"Babel" in Schools
Life After Prop. 227
"Babel" in the Schools
"...there are over 80 languages taught in the California
schools as the primary language, not as the secondary language but as the
primary language, in a country where in Seattle there are 75 languages being
taught, in Chicago there are 100."
American schools are linguistically diverse and becoming more so each year. No question about that. But there is no basis to assume that schools are accommodating them all with bilingual education. Only a minority of limited-English-proficient (LEP) students receive instruction in their native languages, for various reasons. Often there are not enough children from the same language group in a school to make bilingual instruction practical. But in any case, a shortage of qualified bilingual teachers usually makes it impossible. For example, public schools in California enrolled recently arrived immigrants from 136 different countries in 1994, but bilingual teachers were certified in only 17 languages – 96 percent of them in Spanish. To the extent that LEP children received help in other tongues, they received it almost entirely from teacher aides.
"... much has been said this morning about education
and wasting of money. We spend some $12 billion a year in this country, $12
billion a year on bilingual education, which means we teach kids in other
than the English language."
This claim, widely circulated by U.S. English, was calculated by multiplying the nation's average per pupil expenditure by the estimated number of LEP students in the United States. It is erroneous and misleading, for three reasons.
$12 billion sounds like a lot of money. Obviously the figure was concocted to outrage the public about the "waste" of taxpayer dollars on bilingual education. But if that were the true cost, it would be a bargain. It would mean bilingual programs cost no more than "sink or swim" approaches, while delivering far more effective instruction.
1. 1996 dollars, adjusted for inflation.
2. Educational Demographics Unit. Language Census Report for California Public Schools: 1995. Sacramento: California State Department of Education, 1995.
3. Jay Chambers and Tom Parrish, Meeting the Challenge of Diversity: An Evaluation of Programs for Pupils with Limited Proficiency in English, vol. IV, Cost of Programs and Services for LEP Students. Berkeley, Calif.: BW Associates, 1992.
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