Washington Post: Monday's data from the Census Bureau should sharpen the debate on bilingual education. The bureau reported that immigrants make up 11 percent of the U.S. population, the biggest share since the 1930s. This influx is a source of economic and cultural energy but also a potential source of social strain; the net effect depends on how successfully the immigrants blend into the mainstream and share in the nation's upward mobility. But the bureau also reported that nearly one in five Americans do not speak English at home. Among Spanish speakers, only half the adults described themselves as speaking English well. Ensuring that the children of these families are equipped with fluent English should be a national priority.
Unfortunately, the bilingual education offered in most parts of the country does not promote English fluency. The Census Bureau reports that only two-thirds of school-age children in Spanish-speaking homes describe themselves as speaking English very well. This is a shamefully low number: Children pick up languages with relative ease, and the school system ought to be able to deliver near-universal fluency. But bilingual programs often involve teaching mainly in Spanish, with rather desultory efforts to teach English as a second language on the side. Though empirical studies deliver a mixed verdict on this question, it seems likely that students would learn more English if they were immersed in it.
Encouraging evidence: A ballot initiative in California did away with bilingual education in 1998, and Arizona followed two years later. The early evidence from California is encouraging. In last year's standardized tests, second-graders classified as having limited English greatly improved their scores in both reading and math. This success has encouraged the proponents of immersion to organize further initiative campaigns in Colorado and Massachusetts. Oregon and Nevada are two other possible targets.
These promising state experiments should be coupled with support from the federal government. The most plausible argument for bilingual education is not that the method has worked but that it has failed for lack of resources. Poor schools, they say, fall short in almost everything they do; if they embrace immersion teaching, they may fail at that also. Fortunately, the education bill in the Senate authorizes a quadrupling of spending on children with limited English. The House bill, meanwhile, usefully pushes states to set a three-year target for moving students out of special programs into mainstream classes. Until now students have been allowed to spend years in bilingual programs, turning them into a trap rather than a steppingstone.
BIG WIN FOR BIG OIL
Raleigh News & amp; Observer: The U.S. House has handed the Bush administration and the energy industry what they wanted, a national energy plan heavily weighted in favor of industry tax breaks and increased production. As approved by the House last week, the plan would give short shrift to sensible energy conservation measures such as meaningful increased fuel mileage standards for sport utility vehicles, minivans and light trucks, as well as protection of a rare natural resource, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The plan seeks to open 2,000 acres of the refuge to oil exploration and drilling.
The House-passed bill sets the nation on an unwise course of more oil well drilling, more consumption of fossil fuels and more pollution. It also sets a dangerous precedent by brushing aside hard-won protections for irreplaceable natural resources.
Fuel economy: Hopefully, the Senate will consider more than campaign rhetoric when it tackles the nation's pressing need for a coherent, workable and far-sighted energy plan. A good place to start would be a study issued recently by the National Academy of Sciences that says U.S. automakers have the ability to significantly increase fuel economy of automobiles and the increasingly popular light trucks, SUVs and minivans. Not only can fuel mileage be increased, say the scientists, but it can be done without sacrificing the vehicle heft and size that American buyers favor.
Such a mandated increase, all but ignored by the administration plan, would conserve more fuel than some experts say the wildlife refuge can produce. Burning less fuel would also reduce exhaust emissions, a contributor to global warming. Instead, the House handed the energy industry $33.5 billion in tax credits and incentives over the next 10 years, with 80 percent going to boost exploration and production.