April 17, 2009
Boston Students Suffer From English-Only Curriculum
A report released last week shows that students not fluent in English have struggled over the past six years in Boston public schools since a law was passed mandating that all lessons be given in English.
In 2002, Massachusetts voters passed a referendum for English-only education in the midst of national debates on immigration. Effectively banning bilingual education in the state, the school districts were given only nine months to implement the changes mandated by the Unz Initiative. For students in the process of learning to speak and write in English, the effects of the law have been devastating. Non-native English speaking students make up nearly forty percent of the Boston public schools population, and their dropout rate has nearly doubled since the law—sometimes referred to as “Question 2”—was passed. Standardized test scores are also down, and this decline is likely related.
Perhaps most disturbing is that instead of examining the actual failures of the law, the report only lists ways to improve current conditions. While it is surely relevant to discuss what can be done in the short term, long-term solutions—like repealing the law—should also be considered.
Boston schools are full of students from a variety of diverse backgrounds, whose native languages range from Spanish and Vietnamese to Cape Verdean Creole. Their parents naturally also come from a spectrum of ethnic and linguistic backgrounds and are often left to fend for themselves when it comes to understanding their childrens’ English-language-based education. To deny the students and their parents proper information regarding their education is not just morally repugnant; it seems strikingly unethical. How can our public schools truly serve the public when they don’t meet many students’ most basic needs or help parents make active, informed decisions about what is best for their children?
Part of the problem is that this drastic change was decided in a public election and against the wishes of the school system. The decision was not based on the informed, expert opinions of educators and immigrant-rights groups—or perhaps most importantly, the opinions of the students. Instead, the voting-eligible public—which often excludes immigrants—was asked to make this crucial decision. To say that people ignorant to the effects of their choice seemingly abused this privilege is a gross understatement.
It is sometimes easy to understand the racially-biased critics who claim children should be immersed into their new culture. Learning the English language, however imperialist it may be, does often improve living and working conditions for immigrant populations.
No matter your feelings on immigration, it remains unfair that children should be forced into standardized systems that do not integrate them at their own speed. There is no reason to penalize the youth for our country’s issues with immigration, integration, and language.