Don't let the title of the bill fool you (the No Child Left behind Act). If Congress moves forward with this measure, many Hispanic children will indeed be left behind.
Tucked away in the 1,000 page draft bill circulating in the halls of Congress is a provision that would encourage a return to bilingual education in public schools across the nation, a move that could effectively handicap Hispanics for years to come.
A good education is necessary to unlock the countless opportunities this country has to offer. The Census Bureau reports that a person with a college degree earns about twice as much as a person who only receives a high school degree. Of course, having a strong command of the English language is essential to do well in high school, college and graduate school. Wouldn't it make sense then to encourage all children to learn the English language as soon as possible?
Some members of Congress don't think so.
A draft bill supposedly aimed at reforming No Child Left Behind would encourage a return to bilingual education in public schools across the nation. Essentially, schools would no longer be required to immediately teach English Language-deficient students our language. Instead, schools would be allowed to offer portfolio assessments or native-language tests, and students would have up to five years to slowly learn English. Thus, schools would no longer be under pressure to help students quickly learn English.
This would undercut one of the original reasons for No Child Left Behind, which was to fight lowered expectations facing many minority Americans and provide the best possible education to every child in this country.
Unfortunately after five years, it's clear that the plan is failing. While NCLB was designed to require states to hold public schools accountable for results through strict testing, it may actually be having the opposite result. A number of states have responded by simply lowering standards to make tests easier to pass. This hasn't helped parents who need to know whether their children are making progress.
Unfortunately, the changes being considered on Capitol Hill would make the law worse.
Because strict accountability would be kept in place, states would be pressured into making a choice. They could take the difficult road of teaching and testing children in English, even if it means that more of their schools would be graded as "failing." Or, they could take the easy road -- testing children in their native language -- so that more schools would pass to avoid bad publicity. Unfortunately, we know that too many educators are likely to choose the easier path, even if it isn't in our children's best interest.
The Hispanic community can't afford to allow the changes that are being considered. According to the latest test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the achievement gap between Hispanic students and non-Hispanic students is getting wider, not narrower. And as it turns out, there are a disproportionate number of minority/Hispanic students enrolled in our nation's public schools. Consequently, Hispanic students have the most to gain -- and the most to lose.
Clearly this issue most affects the Hispanic community and it's important to recognize the significance of the upcoming No Child Left Behind Reauthorization. Of significance, the irresponsible bilingual measurement requirements designed to help our children will ultimately hurt them.
We would do well in reminding Congress and the president to not leave our children behind in their rush to pat themselves in the back.
Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at the Heritage Foundation. www.heritage.org.
First appeared in El Diario New York City