Thoughts on bilingual ed law

Letter to the Editor
Published: 3/13/2008 12:12 AM

Results versus process. That seems to be the dilemma stemming from some wording in legislation regulating bilingual education.

The Diamond Lake School District has been using an education model called "sheltered English" to teach English language learners. Students are taught in English with support in Spanish if absolutely necessary. It's working. Test scores show that more Hispanic students are meeting or exceeding state standards.

Current legislation mandates that students must be taught in their native language or the district will lose substantial funding. Other districts are caught in this quagmire, including Waukegan. The answer is simple enough, reword the law to allow for optional models to educate non-English speakers without pulling the much needed funding.

I know from personal experience that teachers who earn an English as a Second Language (ESL) endorsement are taught research-based methods and strategies that enable and prepare them to teach language, skills and content to English language learners in a regular classroom setting. Certified, qualified teachers who rigorously implement these proven methods can effectively teach any student without having to be fluent in Spanish themselves(or any other language). Hispanic students can and do become proficient in speaking and reading English as well as develop comprehension in all subject areas with a "monolingual" teacher at the helm. More school districts could try this method threats of funding cuts weren't an issue.

The current wording of the bilingual education legislation is short sighted and detrimental to students, teachers, and ultimately society at large. In some districts, highly qualified teachers who do not speak Spanish are being involuntarily transferred to make room for Spanish-speaking personnel. Other districts are resorting to filling classroom teacher positions with Spanish speakers who are not fluent in English, nor do they have teaching experience or a standard certification to teach. This situation can't be good for the students' learning.

These districts are complying with the wording of the legislation (teach in Spanish), thus they are receiving funding from the state, but at what cost? Fine teachers are losing their positions within a school, students are not in an optimal learning environment, and a future generation could very well be ill prepared for success in our competitive society.

Valerie Goranson