In Brookline, English as a Second Language students are taught by the bilingual education method. Students have either native-language support in their regular classroom or they spend a portion of their day in a bilingual resource room. But the English immersion proposal on the November ballot would change all that. And some, like Boston University’s Christine Rossell say it’s for the better. “The superior situation is a temporary sheltered environment,” Rossell says. “Then they go into a mainstream classroom where they continue to get the ESL support they need.”
Kay Polga, Brookline’s bilingual education coordinator could not disagree more. Polga says the immersion program is a one-size-fits-all approach that requires students to make the transition to a regular classroom in one year. On average, Polga says, it takes a Brookline student a year and nine months to make the transition. But “for other students, it [requires] two or three years and in some cases four years,” she says.
Also controversial is a portion of the initiative that holds educators personally accountable if the immersion curriculum is not followed. It is a notion Polga calls “frightening” and one Rossell says is hardly more than a scare tactic. “The initiative says ‘willfully and repeatedly violate the law,’” Rossell says. “It doesn’t say ‘use one word.’” Regardless, that’s a consequence Massachusetts teachers may soon face if, as poll numbers indicate, the majority of voters approve this overhaul of the bilingual education system.