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"You only learn to read once. ..." (bilingual ed. in US)

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  • Don Osborn
    Many readers of this list will be aware that bilingual education in the US is a controversial political topic, largely as a result of debates over illegal
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 10, 2006
      Many readers of this list will be aware that bilingual education in
      the US is a controversial political topic, largely as a result of
      debates over illegal immigration and many would argue also xenophobia
      about Spanish-speaking people. The following column may be of interest
      for its discussion of some recent issues from a viewpoint favorable to
      bilingual ed.

      One of the reasons I repost it here is the statement attributed to a
      school principal in the US-Mexico border region: "You only learn to
      read once. After that, it's a matter of learning to pronounce it in
      English." This kind of dictum fits perfectly with the concepts of
      teaching reading in a child's first language and the transferrability
      of reading skills to other languages. In another way, however, it
      seems to be an oversimplification of the process of learning to read
      (as opposed to having the skills to sound out) text in another language.

      (This item is reposted from MultiEd-L.)

      Don Osborn

      Dallas Morning News: Opinion
      Bilingual education works - and not just for English
      February 10, 2006

      Let's be honest. Most of us know squat about bilingual
      education, but we all seem to have an opinion, colored
      by what we read or hear around election time.

      Who loses from what we don't know? The kids with the
      highest odds against them – the children of
      immigrants, most of them living in poverty and
      attending schools that don't know what to do with
      them. What's surprising is that the merits of
      bilingual education are so passionately debated when,
      across the board, the program has never been
      adequately staffed.

      Right here in Dallas, school board member Joe May
      proposed hiring qualified, college-educated
      undocumented immigrants to fill the 400 bilingual
      education teaching slots for next year.

      I know, I know, that would violate federal law. But
      lost in all the shoot-from-the-hip criticism of
      "hiring criminals" for "a flawed program" is the
      bigger picture: our national and chronic shortage of
      bilingual teachers.

      "When I first heard about bilingual education in
      1980, I didn't get it," said Stephen Krashen,
      professor emeritus at the University of Southern
      California and now a bilingual education guru.
      "Bilingual education has one of the most consistent
      results in all of educational research."

      He's right. Of the numerous studies out there, the
      overwhelming majority is favorable toward bilingual
      education, when staffed with qualified teachers.

      But, hijole, it's political. How else do you explain
      the U.S. Education Department's refusal last fall to
      release a long-awaited study examining existing data
      to determine whether bilingual education actually
      works? The department deemed the study flawed and
      never made it public. Could the reason be that the
      study's researchers concluded that bilingual education
      does help students pick up English?

      Among Mexican immigrants, who come to the U.S. with
      some of the lowest educational levels of all groups,
      some children can't even read in their own language.
      How can we expect them to pick up English in a year –
      as immersion programs like those in California call
      for – and start testing soon after?

      Along the border, where a huge chunk of us were
      Spanish-dominant, bilingual education was the norm. My
      elementary school principal, Benito Saenz, still says,
      "You only learn to read once. After that, it's a
      matter of learning to pronounce it in English."

      Consider Texas, where last year more than 14 percent
      of students were in bilingual education or English as
      a Second Language programs. It's not such a stretch to
      conclude that these kids' future earning power will
      determine how comfortably tomorrow's retirees rest.

      So isn't it in everyone's best interest that these
      children excel?

      By now, the bilingual education debate should have
      progressed from whether it works to how we can make
      sure it works for all of our kids. Haven't we learned
      anything from Ricky Martin? These days, it's all about
      crossover. It's about marketability. English may be
      the language of opportunity, but speaking a second one
      often determines who gets the job.

      In New York, educators are trying to figure out how
      they can tap into the Arab and Chinese immigrant
      populations to teach those much-in-demand languages in
      school. (The CIA and FBI could use the help, since
      they don't have enough folks to translate Arabic

      At South Knoll Elementary in the College Station
      school district, students can enroll in a two-way dual
      language program where Spanish and English speakers
      teach each other. Programs like this are popping up
      across the country, and most have waiting lists.

      Texas students especially could benefit from two-way
      dual programs, which in effect open up the Western
      Hemisphere, where half of the population speaks
      Spanish among almost 400 million people worldwide.
      With our biggest trading partner just south of the Rio
      Grande and Texas the highest exporting state, we would
      be shortsighted not to prepare our children to work
      with countries like Mexico, where Wal-Mart,
      McDonald's, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft and IBM have
      found homes.

      Or, as 8-year-old Chloe McEntarffer, a participant in
      a dual program, recently told The Oregonian newspaper,
      "When you don't know how to speak Spanish, it isn't
      cool. We know two languages. We can have friends that
      speak Spanish only or English only, because we can
      speak to everyone."

      Macarena Hernández is a Dallas Morning News editorial
      columnist. Her e-mail address is
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