Bilingual Classes in California Get Praise, Criticism

In 1998, California voters banned bilingual education in that state. But now, some parents have the option of putting their children in "dual immersion" (search) programs where, beginning in kindergarten, students are taught in both languages.

In this program, kindergarten lessons are taught 90 percent in Spanish and 10 percent English. In first, grade, it's 80 percent Spanish (search) and 20 percent English and by fifth grade, it's 50 percent to 50 percent.

Supporters say it gives English-speaking children a chance to learn another language and ties Hispanic children to their heritage. Half of America's non-English speaking kindergarteners are enrolled in California schools.

"By the time they hit high school, they will be totally fluent and be advanced in their academic content area in both Spanish and English," said Palm Elementary Principal Beatrice Gray.

Currently, 136 California schools have dual immersion programs. Some are charter schools (search) but others offer parents waivers to have their kids be enrolled in bilingual classes (search).

But critics argue that schools are having enough trouble teaching kids in English without "immersing" them in a different language. And they believe dual immersion is nothing more than an end-run around Proposition 227, California's English-only law.

Before bilingual education ended, Latino children had the highest dropout rates, lowest test scores and lowest rates of college admission. Now those numbers are improving and there is concern that reverting back to Spanish-based education could reverse that positive trend.

"If they don't learn to read or write or even speak English properly, they'll never be able to get a good job and they'll never be able to go to college, and that's not good for our society," said political activist Ron Unz.

Opponents of the policy say if dual-immersion continues, they may take the issue to the voters again.