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April 1, 2000
Vol. 57
No. 7

Letters

A Misrepresented Position

In "The Benefits of English Immersion" (Dec. 1999/Jan. 2000), Rosalie Pedalino Porter implies that California's mandated approach to teaching language minority children has a research base. This is absolutely false. There is no research base for terminating bilingual and ESL services after one year. The state's Proposition 227 puts 1.4 million LEP children at risk. For Porter to cite Diane August and Kenji Hakuta in suggesting that the virtual elimination of bilingual programs is a positive development misrepresents their findings and is truly irresponsible scholarship.
—Tim Boals, Consultant, Bilingual/ESL Program, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Madison, Wisconsin

Factors for Bilingual Success

In "The Benefits of English Immersion," Rosalie Pedalino Porter incorrectly portrays bilingual and English immersion programs. For example, when discussing the high drop-out rate of Latino students, Porter correctly states that the largest group of students in native-language programs are Spanish speaking, but she ignores the fact that an overwhelming majority of Latino children are currently in, and have been in, English-only programs with no native-language support.
Prior to Proposition 227, only 15 percent of California's 1.5 million second-language learners were in bilingual programs. Even fewer are now receiving native-language instruction across the state. Common sense dictates that the high drop-out rate of Latinos is not caused by bilingual education, but by their inability to develop enough English to comprehend academically rigorous material.
Calexico, California, has had an exemplary bilingual program for years. Its drop-out rate is only 14 percent for Latino students, compared with the expected 31 percent statewide. Moreover, 75 percent of its high school graduates go on to a community college or a university.
Porter does not address the variables that affect the efficacy of any program and points only to native-language instruction in and of itself. Educators have found that model schools exhibit several indicators that are often missing in schools with bilingual and ESL programs: a strong educational leader; strong collegiality and collaboration among staff members; ongoing professional development and dialogue; the consistent use of data and assessment to drive instruction and to make curricular decisions; a coherent curriculum across grade levels; and extended time for students who need extra help. Porter refuses to acknowledge how crucial these factors are to a program's success or failure.
Her suggestion that non-English-speaking parents do not "clamor" for bilingual programs is contrary to what we know happened in California. Native-language instruction is alive in the hundreds of classrooms where parents insisted that it continue. Porter does not address how Asian communities in the Bay area continue to ardently support bilingual education. She insists on portraying native-language instruction as solely a Spanish issue. It is not.
Readers and decision makers cannot continue to ignore relevant data. Porter and her cohorts are counting on ignorance to get their English-only agenda in our schools.
—Priscilla Shannon Gutierrez, Literacy Coach, Boulder Valley School District, Lakewood, Colorado

Developmentally Appropriate Practice

Reading "Literacy Standards for Preschool Learners" by Elena Bodrova, Deborah Leong, and Diane Paynter (Oct. 1999) left me anxious about what will happen to preschools as they move into the public schools. As a teacher, school board member, and preschool director for more than 30 years, I am surprised that a respected journal would print misinformation about young children's development and learning.
The authors cited Sue Bredekamp's book on developmentally appropriate practice (DAP), which should have made their article useful and accurate. But they used Bredekamp's old edition, which she has revised to refine and clarify DAP. They cited Catherine Snow's research, but certainly did not understand what she considers important for young children's language and literacy development. I suggest reading the interview with Snow in Scholastic Early Childhood Today (Aug./Sept., 1998, p. 58): The most important thing is to provide children with a language rich environment . . . a place where everyday activities get talked about. . . . A language rich environment is a place in which children have many opportunities to see how print is used for a variety of purposes. And it's a place where language and print are incorporated in playful ways into everyday activities.
Contrast this with the authors' example of learning the alphabet: The teacher stands at the front of the classroom, pointing to the letters. The seated children have alphabet strips so that they can also point, showing the teacher that they are on task. Even the scaffolded writing that the authors describe is inappropriate for most 4- and 5-year-olds and would make children resist writing or telling stories.
The authors need to reread Vygotsky. The zone of proximal development includes scaffolding to help children move to a level at which they cannot work by themselves. This level is supposed to be challenging, not frustrating. For most 4- and 5-year-olds, writing (putting words on paper) is so hard (because of their physical development) that combining storytelling with writing on their own, even with adult help, is too difficult.
—Nora Krieger, Highland Park, New Jersey

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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