The board of education for the Dade County, Florida, public schools system has voted to try a new pilot program that could lead to a shift away from the “transitional” bilingual method of teaching. Dade County has the nations fourth largest school system and a very large population of Spanish speaking students.
Currently, Miami’s nearly 25,000 Spanish-speaking students are gradually integrated into regular classes over a three year “transitional” period. During this “transitional” period they attend forty-five minute “core” classes taught in their native language.
Under the pilot program, a sample of 150 students will be taught for two years in the “total immersion” method, which puts students directly into classes taught in English and eliminates the core periods taught in Spanish. When the two year pilot program ends, school officials will compare the relative educational attainments of the children who have been taught in the immersion method with those of students taught in the transitional program.
The board’s vice-chairman, Ethel K. Beckham, said one reason for the board’s decision to try a new method was the release a few days before the board meeting of some “discouraging” results of English and writing tests taken by Spanish speaking students who were involved in the city’s transitional bilingual program. (Education Week March 1983: p. 5)
One test called the College Level Academic Skills Test, a new test given in Florida only to college sophomores, found that Hispanic students at Dade County Community College (many of whom came from the Dade County public schools), scored “substantially less well in reading and writing skills than other students”, said John Lozak, dean of institutional research at the community college.
A second test, a Stanford achievement test that the Miami schools volunteered to take part as a sample group, showed poor results among Hispanic students.
If O.C.R. (the U.S. Education Department Office for Civil Rights) approves it, Miami’s pilot program will start next fall in heavily Hispanic schools and will involve three groups of 150 kindergarten and first grade children. The first group will continue with the transitional method—about one third of their instruction in their native language each day, with the rest in English.
A second group will have the same schedule, but the classes will be smaller, to see if that makes a difference.
The third group will have 30 minutes a day of instruction in their native language. Science, social studies, and mathematics will be taught only in English.
At the end of two years, the proficiency of the three groups will be compared. The cost of the experiment will be $458.00 per child, compared with $389.00 per child for the present program.
If the board does adopt the immersion method it could mark the beginning of a shift among major school districts with large non-English-speaking student populations away from the transitional bilingual education. Advocates of transitional bilingual education fear this, ever since the Reagan administration withdrew proposed bilingual education regulations and suggested that they would not prevent school districts from choosing their own methods of teaching foreign-language students.