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Tuesday, June 6, 2000

Bilingual expansion is favored

LULAC to push state to expand instruction

By Kathryn A. Wolfe Caller-Times

When Pete Olivares was growing up in the 1950s, he wasn't allowed to speak Spanish in school, and his parents encouraged him to learn English. Times have changed.

Now Olivares spends his days as a bilingual educator and a trustee of a local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, which Monday voiced its support for bilingual education for all school-age children.

"The whole community, the parents, especially my parents, they wanted us to learn English properly," Olivares said. "Now, you have to (teach bilingual education). Four plus four is the same answer in English as in Spanish. A lot of the concepts are the same."

And because the concepts are the same, Olivares said, bilingual education could help enhance many students' learning experience.

Rene Lara, Texas LULAC education committee chairman, said Monday that LULAC will push the state Legislature to enact laws enabling more children to learn both English and Spanish. By doing so, students will be better prepared for Texas' rapidly growing economy, he said.

"It is increasingly important that all children develop their language and communication skills," Lara said.

Bilingual education improves students' cognitive abilities, vocabulary and perspective, said Linda Kelly, principal of Dawson Elementary School, where many students take advantage of bilingual classes.

"It gives the child a better perspective on the world," Kelly said. "We're getting to be more of a global community and students who are literate in two languages will be the most employable."

Lara said immediate action must be taken to correct the educational gap between Hispanic and Anglo students, which includes historically lower scores on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, high dropout rates and poor college attendance rates.

While Hispanic and black sophomores have collectively improved their reading and mathematics TAAS scores over the years, they still lag behind Anglos by a considerable margin, according to Texas Education Agency statistics.

In the reading section, 83 percent of Hispanics and 85 percent of blacks passed the test, compared with 96 percent of Anglos.

In the writing section, 80 percent of Hispanics and 74 percent of blacks met the minimum requirements, compared with 93 percent of Anglos.

"Our children go into the system with the same expectations and potential for success as any other child in Texas but we continue to suffer a higher dropout rates, lower scores on the TAAS, and fewer students entering post-secondary education," said Roman Palomares, LULAC's state director. "This is an intolerable situation and we must take immediate action to reverse these trends."

Olivares said LULAC has long supported bilingual education.

"Maybe now it's more and more being put out to the public," Olivares said.



The Associated Press and staff writer Jeremy Schwartz contributed to this report. Staff writer Kathryn Wolfe can be reached at _886-3615 or by e-mail at