Published Online: June 17, 1998
Published in Print: June 17, 1998, as Bilingual & Immigrant Education

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Bilingual & Immigrant Education

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While efforts to declare English the nation's official language have come and gone in in Congress recent years, one lawmaker is trying to recast the divisive debate.

Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., recently introduced the "English Plus" resolution. The measure, which would not have the force of law, recognizes the predominance and importance of English as the unifying language of the United States. But it also calls on the federal government to pursue policies that encourage Americans to master other languages in addition to English.

"The inherent shallowness behind 'English Only' would deny the United States the opportunity to meet its full market potential," Sen. Domenici said when he introduced his measure May 22. "If we want to become a more powerful cultural and economic American force in the world, then we should adopt the 'English Plus' approach."

Some political observers see Mr. Domenici's resolution as a symbolic attempt to improve Republicans' image with Hispanics, the largest and fastest-growing minority segment of the U.S. electorate. The senator introduced the resolution less than two weeks before Californians voted to virtually end bilingual education in their state. That state's Republican leadership largely stayed out of what became a national debate over how to best teach limited-English-proficient students.

Mr. Domenici's resolution notes that U.S. Census Bureau figures say one in five Americans will be of Hispanic descent by 2030. The policy statement also underscores reports suggesting that the vast majority of immigrants become fluent in English by the second generation in the United States. Nearly 40 percent of New Mexico residents are Hispanic, one of the highest concentrations in the nation.

Nearly 300 Hispanic educators, parents, students, and business and community leaders met last month in San Francisco to map out ways to raise academic achievement among the city's Hispanic students.

About 21 percent of the city's 66,000 public K-12 students are Hispanic. Sponsored by the San Francisco Unified school system, the daylong Latino Educational Issues Forum tackled questions ranging from how to increase parental involvement to how to send more Latino students to college.

Superintendent Waldemar Rojas has called on the district to close the achievement gap between minority and nonminority students. A follow-up summit is planned for fall to map out specific recommendations.

--LYNN SCHNAIBERG lschnaib@epe.org

Vol. 17, Issue 40, Page 6

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