Pharos-Tribune

Opinion

November 10, 2013

CEPEDA: The downside of bilingualism

(Continued)

In the schools where I taught, the bilingual education program was a revolving door of under-qualified instructors on special temporary teaching certificates who often did not have undergraduate degrees in the subjects they taught.

This didn’t always matter. My students were in tracks where language was traditionally taught with elementary school-level worksheets and the upper-class Algebra 2 students were expected to work and test from the district’s 8th-grade math basics book.

Some Spanish-speaking students who were capable of performing well in mainstream classes were nevertheless put in bilingual programs or persuaded to join them — numbers had to be kept up to run the sheltered instruction classes, which get extra operating funds from state and federal governments.

Not so for Polish, Korean, Filipino and other English-language learners who came into the district. Their small numbers usually didn’t trigger opening a “self-contained” classroom catering to their native language. They were instead expected to sink or swim in mainstream classes, and almost invariably succeeded.

Kids are like that — except for special cases — they soak up new languages easily.

Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Unified School District seems to think its English-language learners are unadaptable. To boost their achievement, it plans to separate elementary school students who are not fluent in English from native English-speakers in all core classes.

Supporters of the move say the students’ track record of low achievement proves that their long-standing integration hasn’t worked. Opponents of the scheme cite research suggesting that students have a better shot at learning English if they are placed with English-speaking peers.

I agree, but with the caveat of excellent instruction.

The very best English-language acquisition programs are those featuring dual language instruction where kids are fully immersed in classrooms that alternate use of languages and are headed by highly skilled teachers. Students learn two languages quickly and deftly.

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