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What Can Bilingual Education Do For Houston Kids?

Houston has one of the largest international populations in the country. That also means there's an abundance of different languages spoken here — including in our schools. Supporters of bilingual education want schools to make the most of this linguistic capital.



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For the 41st time, the Texas Association for Bilingual Education, or TABE, is having its annual conference. And this year – this week, to be exact — it’s in Houston.

That’s an appropriate location, considering that about a quarter of people here speak English “less than very well” and 37 percent of Houstonians speak Spanish at home. That’s according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“This conference brings the best and the brightest to Texas. We have national speakers that come to share their research about bilingual education and ESL.”

That’s Dr. Luis Rosado with TABE. He says the organization advocates for dual language instruction because it’s the best way to help immigrant children succeed in school.

“If you’re being taught in a language that you don’t understand, you will not be able to progress academically. In other words, we use native language instruction to avoid what we call cognitive retardation. And then eventually, when the child has become fluent in both languages and then we can either follow up with dual language or continue in English only. But at least we do not lose that child in the early stages.”

Dr. Gracie Guerrero, assistant superintendent for multilingual programs at the Houston Independent School District, agrees with that idea. Talking on KUHF’s Houston Matters recently, she says about 40,000 students participate in bilingual programs in HISD. And she says the school district is currently expanding its dual language program to native English-speaking students.

“Not necessarily for the sake of communicating with the Hispanic population but for folks wishing to do business, to be able to socialize, to have any type of rapport with students.”

Rosado with TABE says HISD is one of the leading districts when it comes to bilingual education, but it needs to continue to work on improving the quality of instruction and hire more bilingual and bicultural administrators.

Rosado says one of TABE’s biggest challenges is to overcome the traditional idea of how education should be.

“We’re still a very traditional country that believes that monolingualism was the way to go. And we have a lot of politicians that do not understand the educational process. They believe that education is like a business — you put $100,000 in there and you got a $200,000 (back) next week.”

He says the impact of bilingual education can’t be felt immediately but it makes a difference in the long run.

This year’s TABE conference continues through tomorrow at the Westin Galleria hotel.