Another Side To Bilingual Classrooms


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Right now, across the country, parents are in the midst of trying to get their children enrolled in bilingual classrooms for next September.
The motivation is usually straightforward. Parents want their kids to learn a foreign language. The thinking is that a second language will bring significant cultural and economic advantages.
But for many Latino parents (and others as well) there is something more at play; namely, it can feel like the family language is at stake. (The loss of Spanish-language fluency among native-born Latinos is a widespread phenomenon.) Bilingual classrooms are seen as a way of ensuring children will be able to read, write and speak Spanish.
Research and Controversy 
Spanish-dominant students learn English faster and better in classrooms that include Spanish-language instruction, according to a 2006 National Literacy Panel report. The findings are cited by University of Toronto Professor Jim Cummins as proof of the benefits of bilingual education.
He says, “In the last 10 or so years, there’s pretty much been a consensus among the research community in regard to the outcomes of dual-language programs.” But, standardized test scores show the transfer of language skills from Spanish to English can take time. Particularly so, in the very first years of schooling.
Cummins, however, believes any remaining opposition to bilingual education in the U.S., is ideologically grounded. Businessman Ron Unz disagrees.
Long before his most recent claim to fame as an advocate for a $12 minimum wage in California, Unz was the principal sponsor behind Proposition 227, which passed in 1998 and was designed to effectively eliminate bilingual education in the same state. He remains adamant in thinking that native-language instruction hinders academic performance among English learners.
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