Obama and Romney differ on bilingual education

Obama and Romney differ on bilingual education
Photo by Teresa Puente

During the presidential debates President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said very little about their education policies except that they love teachers.

Come on. We need more substance than that.

Education is a key issue for Latinos in the United States.

One in four elementary school students is now Hispanic.

Almost 40 percent of Hispanics do not have a high school education, more than double the rates of whites and African Americans.

Hispanics are now 16.5 percent of the students enrolled in college - an all-time high, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

Still, only 14 percent of U.S. Hispanics had a college education in 2010 compared with 30 percent of whites and 20 percent of African Americans, according to U.S. Census data.

So what do the two candidates say on education and bilingual education, a topic completely ignored in the debates?

When Romney was governor in Massachusetts he supported a ballot measure to end a bilingual education law that had allowed students to learn in their native language for up to three years. Instead Romney supported English immersion, according to the Boston Globe.

But this did not improve bilingual student test scores at all.

“Everybody knows that English language learners are the failure in the Massachusetts education story,” Roger Rice,executive director of the Somerville-based Multicultural Education, Training and Advocacy told The Boston Globe. “In the debates, Romney did his thing, talking about getting kids to learn English. But it hasn’t been a success.’’

President Obama supports transitional bilingual education, which promotes a solid foundation in the native language to best prepare the students to learn English.

"Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English -- they'll learn English -- you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish," Obama said in 2008. "You should be thinking about, how can your child become bilingual? We should have every child speaking more than one language."

Both President Obama and Romney support charter schools. But Romney is in favor of increasing vouchers at a greater rate and severely reducing if not eliminating the role of the federal government in education, including eliminating the Department of Education.

"We need to get the federal government out of education," Romney said during a Republican primary debate in September 2011.

Obama with the support of former Chicago Public Schools Chief Arne Duncan has worked to revamp President Bush's No Child Left Behind and offer waivers for states. Instead he has pushed states to voluntarily adopt new academic standards know as the Common Core.

Regarding higher education, President Obama supports Pell grants and federal aid for students to go to colleges and universities.

Romney touted that as governor top students got free tuition at his state's schools. But many parents and students found that fees were actually higher than tuition so it didn't amount to much of a scholarship.

Romney supports more private sector loans. In April, he also told students at a university in Ohio that they should borrow money from their parents to go to college. We know that most students don't have that option.

President Obama also supports the DREAM Act that would create a pathway to legalization for students who complete two years of college or military service. Romney only supports the military option.

It appears that Romney would propose fundamental changes to the public education system and would expect students to do more to fund their own higher education.

If you believe federal government should have a major role in providing an equal education to all students, then President Obama would be your candidate.

If you think that it is up to the states and ultimately the individual to find and finance your education, then Romney would be your choice.

Education is an important issue and it deserved a more thorough discussion during the campaign.

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