The Texas board of education held a lively debate at its Feb. 9 meeting about whether bilingual education or structured English immersion is a better way to teach English to immigrant children.
When two Republicans on the board—President Geraldine Miller and Gail Lowe—invited two proponents of structured English immersion to talk about that method at the board meeting, two Democratic members—Joe J. Bernal and Mary Helen Berlanga—asked for equal time from proponents of bilingual education.
After the discussion, board members were still polarized in their views.
“I’m of the opinion that when it is correctly done, structured English immersion is the best model for teaching English fluency to non-native speakers,” said Ms. Lowe.
She said she was not trying to get rid of bilingual education in Texas, a step that would require legislative action, but would like to see more school districts offer structured English immersion as an option.
Expansion of structured English immersion in Texas is “a dead issue,” Ms. Berlanga said. She added, “If [the proponents] try to revive it, they are going to get a lot of very negative feedback.”
Texas is one of the few states—along with Illinois and New Mexico—that currently require districts to provide bilingual education programs, in which students are taught some subjects in their native languages while learning English. If a Texas district has at least 20 students of the same language group, it must offer bilingual education.
In California, Arizona, and Massachusetts, voters have approved ballot measures that made structured English immersion the default method for teaching English-language learners. In that method, all materials and instruction are provided in English, though some schools permit teachers to speak to students in their native languages to provide clarification.
Don Soifer, the executive vice president of the Lexington Institute, a conservative think tank in Arlington, Va., was one of the presenters who spoke to the Texas board in support of structured English immersion. Stephen D. Krashen, a professor emeritus of education at the University of Southern California, countered by telling board members that research shows that students in bilingual education do better on standardized tests than those in structured English immersion.
A version of this article appeared in the February 22, 2006 edition of Education Week