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English-only programs set many students on path to failure

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It seems that the impending state takeover of the Southbridge Public Schools (“Southbridge schools could get taken over,” Metro, Jan. 15) follows that of Lawrence and Holyoke. That these three districts have large numbers of English-language learners is not a coincidence.

Since the ballot initiative known as Question 2 passed in 2002, with limited exceptions, public school children have been taught all subjects in English, regardless of their English proficiency. This has taken the gift of bilingualism away from our students and has resulted in failure rates of English learners in communities such as Southbridge. It is time that we follow the lead of California, where voters are seeking to repeal its version of Question 2 on the November ballot.

Students in bilingual or multilingual programs far outperform their peers in restrictive English-only programs. There is no one-size-fits-all model for education, and teachers and districts should have options as to how to best educate English learners. It's time that we also repeal Question 2 and allow teachers and districts to develop the strongest possible programs to meet the needs of the diverse group of English learners across the state.


Julie Whitlow

The writer is a professor at Salem State University and coordinator of the graduate programs in teaching English for speakers of other languages. She also directs Project SAEL (Successful Advancement of English Learners in Gateway Cities in Massachusetts).