Educating New Immigrants

We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.

- Newt Gingrich, March 31, 2007

How to educate new arrivals in the USA is a hotly debated topic. But the debate rarely considers the personal stories of new immigrants. Three years ago, producer Zareen Levien was volunteering in a 5th grade classroom. For months a boy sat at the back, not participating at all. Like 25% of Californian children, he was an English Language Learner (ELL). He had just arrived from Mexico and didn’t speak any English. The teacher was excellent, but didn’t speak Spanish. In a public school class with 30 students, she had little time to spend with him.

California’s policy of “structured English immersion” allows this boy only 1 year of additional English language instruction. After that, he’s expected to be at the same level as his classmates. Research indicates that it takes 5-7 years to develop academic English fluency.

“Structured English immersion” amounts to “sink or swim”. "Immersion" shows a bright boy who, for no fault of his own, is sinking.