Feb 122002

In November, Coloradans will throw their two cents worth of supposed wisdom into the political soup of this state as they flock to the polls. Among the many issues that citizens will be asked to consider is an amendment to the Constitution of Colorado that will change the direction of bilingual education in public schools. This ballot measure is the brainchild of Ron Unz, a California businessman and founder of an organization called English for the Children.

The amendment makes provisions for an alternative to the traditional bilingual curriculum currently employed with non-English speaking students. It recommends periodic assessment through testing and also defines consequences for educators who fail to abide by the abolishment of bilingual education from Colorado classrooms.

The proposed alternative to long-term bilingual education would take the form of a yearlong, sheltered immersion in English. Upon completion of this program, students would be classified as “fluent English proficient” and transferred into a regular English classroom where they would be expected to demonstrate the same academic progress as their English-speaking peers. Any educator deemed to be in violation of the regulations imposed by this amendment would be terminated and ineligible to secure employment in a Colorado public school or a position in public office for a term of five years.

Passage of the proposed amendment is being encouraged by proponents who tout, among its benefits, an increase in the equality of opportunities available to all students. What supporters fail to account for, however, is the fact that learning abilities vary among students, and to expect all students to develop a competency in English within the course of one year is unreasonable. In fact, what the dissolution of bilingual classrooms actually promotes is a compounding of unequal access to education.

And is it not rather obscene that, at a time when this state is unable to secure enough competent teachers to meet effective student to teacher ratios, educators who would dare to attempt to reach out to a student would face the threat of expulsion?

The bilingual curricula being used in Colorado schools varies among districts, and while some admittedly lack a record of success, others offer a history of accomplishments. Here in our very own backyard, Poudre School District has demonstrated an exemplary success in bilingual education at its very own Harris Bilingual Immersion Elementary School. Basic core subjects are taught in an alternating cycle of English and Spanish. At the school’s website, I learned that it considers itself “a school of need for Spanish speaking students and a school of choice for English speakers.” The school seeks to graduate students proficient in communication and literacy skills in both English and Spanish.

While I concede that bilingual education certainly has its flaws, I believe it to be a worthy endeavor undeserving of complete extermination. I find it interesting that, while so many of the incredibly ineffective and worthless political and social structures of our society are never questioned at all or simply face constant reform, some of the more worthy are the first in line to face abolition.

Veronica Garcia is a senior majoring in sociology.

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