U.S. Senate, Massachusetts Consider Bilingual Ed Reform

Published April 1, 2000

As it deliberates reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the U.S. Senate is considering unprecedented reform of federal bilingual education programs. Many of the reforms pending in the Senate were approved last October by the House under its Title I ESEA reauthorization bill for disadvantaged students, H.R. 2.

The House reforms, led by Education Committee Chairman Bill Goodling and Arizona Representative Matt Salmon, require school districts to provide information about bilingual programs to parents, and to obtain the consent of parents before children are placed in bilingual or other programs tailored for English learners. The reforms also would eliminate the so-called 75-25 rule, which mandates that at least 75 percent of federal bilingual dollars be spent on instruction in the students’ non-English native languages.

“It’s very serious,” NEA lobbyist Isabelle Garcia told The Denver Post before the House vote.

Senate Republicans are focusing their efforts on passing the reforms approved in the House. GOP members of the Senate Education Committee have expressed interest in ending the 75-25 rule as part of the ESEA reauthorization, and Senators Paul Coverdell (Georgia) and Jon Kyl (Arizona) reportedly are moving forward with a draft plan for parental consent and notification based on provisions approved in the House.

On the Democrat side, Senator Joseph Lieberman (Connecticut) has called for significant funding increases for bilingual education programs while also proposing a number of important reform measures. These include requiring informed parental consent for placement in bilingual programs; mandating that teachers of English learners be fluent in English; and placing a three-year limit on federally funded programs–with substantial cuts in funding for failure to achieve state-defined objectives within that allotted time.

Massachusetts May Eliminate Bilingual Ed

Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a recent proposal by State Senator Guy Glodis (D) that essentially would eliminate bilingual education programs by requiring that all students be placed in English-language classes. If necessary, a sheltered English immersion approach could be employed for up to one year. Currently, the state’s English learners are taught in bilingual classes in their non-English native language for three to five years.

The new bill is modeled after California’s Proposition 227, which passed decisively in 1998. Since then, several other states have approved significant reforms of bilingual programs. Most recently, Connecticut’s 1999 law placed a 30-month limit on transitional bilingual education programs and required schools to assess the progress of English learners every year.

Early last year, the Massachusetts Board of Education reversed a policy of regularly excluding English learners from the Iowa reading test. Beginning in 2003, all public school students will be required to pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System in the 10th grade.

“Hispanics are our largest segment of English learners. Yet they have the lowest test scores, the highest dropout rates, and the lowest college acceptances of any language minorities,” explained Glodis. “This bill is about helping Hispanic young people by giving them the opportunities they need to succeed.”

Don Soifer is executive vice president of the Arlington, Virginia-based Lexington Institute.