The shame of our city's language instruction

September 4, 2009

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RE “LOST in translation’’ (Editorial, Aug. 31): Two things are striking, and shocking: that the Boston Public Schools would not yet be giving English language learner students their legal rights to special help (six years after the English immersion law went into effect), and that the state Department of Education has not yet come down hard on the district to demand action.

I was a bilingual teacher in Springfield 30 years ago, then director of bilingual and English as a Second Language programs in Newton for 10 years. We knew how to register these kids for school, inform their parents, and help children get special help. Think of all we’ve learned, all the advances in language teaching - have Boston educators slept through it all?

As cochairwoman of the English for the Children campaign in 2002, the referendum that led to English immersion, I can confirm that the law mandated special help, with the focus on teaching English from the first day of school, with trained teachers and appropriate materials. There was no question that this program would replace native language instruction in most cases.

What Boston needs to do to meet federal standards is not new or complicated, but it needs the will to learn from abundant practical experience, and act on it. We were the first state to pass a law, in 1971, requiring special help for English language learners. It is shameful that Boston would be the place that is failing in this responsibility.

Rosalie Pedalino Porter
The writer is the author of “American Immigrant: My Life in Three Languages.’’

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