With all the concerns about outsourcing, I was curious to learn we're now outsourcing education to Mexico, which ranks last among major nations in educational achievement. In a recent teleconference with Mexican President Vicente Fox, Governor Christine Gregoire announced a high school curriculum from the Mexican government that "will allow 55,000 Latino students in Washington to take school classes online in Spanish."
There's not much substance yet. The program's objective is to offer limited-English speakers an alternative for earning graduation credits. Sounds nice, but it's a cop-out: Already, tens of thousands of Spanish-speaking students languish indeﬁnitely in "transitional bilingual education" and never become functionally literate in English.
The education establishment's misguided "compassion" and reluctance to hold all immigrants to the same achievable expectations for learning English has horrendous consequences. We're now cultivating a permanent underclass that lacks the most basic of skills-proﬁciency in English-necessary for success in the American workforce.
I couldn't get any information on the curriculum's details. Gregoire's ofﬁce couldn't tell me anything; tellingly, nobody on her staff had reviewed the content, which makes me suspect this is mostly a publicity stunt to help the embattled governor with Latino voters. So I called the Yakima School District, which introduced the program. Superintendent Ben Soria didn't have any documents in English about the curriculum, but he said it offers 41 courses, including math, sciences, and world history. A third of his students are limited-English Spanish speakers, predominantly children of agricultural workers. Many drop out of high school, discouraged by their inability to do English coursework. The Mexican courseware is meant to help more of them graduate.
Good intentions, but misguided overall. I spoke with Abraham Guizar, who came to the U.S. in 6th grade from Guadalajara. His parents were agricultural workers and nobody in his family spoke English. Fourteen years later, Guizar speaks excellent English and is working on his master's in computer engineering. He feels that having some instruction in Spanish gave him the conﬁdence to make it to college. He convinced me of the value of offering native-language courses in limited situations, such as math instruction for kids who are still progressing in English. To the extent that the Mexican online curriculum might provide that, it could have some beneﬁts.
But it evades the bigger problem. More than half of the 20,000 kids who enter the state's "transitional bilingual instruction" each year are in grades K-2. Children that young are able to transition into regular English classrooms within two or three years, tops. But the data reveals that most are still "in transition" ﬁve years later, with no transition date in sight.
Why expand a failing program? There's a clue in this statement from the state superintendent's latest report on English learners: "Each [limited English] student generates extra funding for the district, and the number of students in the program continues to grow at a faster pace than the overall student population." Perhaps the incentives to the education establishment should be based not on the number of "transitional" students, but on the number that actually learn English.