Teachers Flunk English Tests, Critics Assail Bilingual Ed Programs

By Steve Brown | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - When both school teachers and even a local school superintendent cannot pass legally required English fluency tests, as was the case in Massachusetts recently, taxpayers and students end up the losers, critics told CNSNews.com Thursday.

"It's obviously a ridiculous situation. Here's the guy in charge of education (in Lawrence, Mass.), and he can't even pass an English literacy test," James Lubinskas, communications director for U.S. English, Inc., a group dedicated to making English the official U.S. language, said.

Jim Boulet, executive director for a similar-minded group, English First, agreed, saying the situation highlights what has been wrong with bilingual education programs "for quite some time."

"How can the student learn the language if the teacher is unfamiliar with it?" Boulet asked.

The criticism was triggered by news reports focused on Wilfredo Laboy, superintendent of schools in Lawrence, who three times failed the basic literacy test all state educators must pass to be certified. Laboy told reporters a lack of preparation and concentration, combined with English being a second language to him, caused the failures.

"What brought me down was the rules of grammar and punctuation," Laboy explained in the Aug. 3 Eagle Tribune in Lawrence, Mass. "English being a second language for me, I didn't do well in writing. If you're not an English teacher, you don't look at the rules on a regular basis."

Laboy also told the newspaper that state officials told him he would not have to take the test when he was recruited for the job of Lawrence school superintendent in 2000. Laboy had gained his certification in New York in 1991. Massachusetts State Education Commissioner David Driscoll, however, was quoted by the Eagle Tribune as telling reporters he was "comfortable" Laboy was "aware of his obligation to pass."

"It doesn't mean anything now. It will mean more as time goes by because there's an expectation that he'll pass," Driscoll told the Tribune, indicating that Laboy would be given another chance to pass but declining to say how long or how many more chances he would be given.

However, tensions rose following news of Laboy's failure, since he had recently placed 24 Lawrence bilingual teachers on unpaid leave for failing an English proficiency test different from the one Laboy failed.

The test is part of a recently enacted Massachusetts law, which shifted the state's strategy for dealing with immigrant students from one of bilingual education to one of English immersion, requiring teachers to speak only English in the classroom. A lawyer representing 17 of the predominantly Spanish-speaking bilingual teachers who failed the English literacy test told reporters she intended to pursue legal action to have her clients reinstated in their jobs.

Laboy said he and staff were looking for ways to rehire the teachers while adhering to the new state law requiring English fluency from the teachers. Reading that Laboy blamed his test failures on the fact that English was his second language, the teachers said, "That's our point, too," the Tribune reported Aug. 5.

To compound matters, the same week the news broke on Laboy's test failures, he was given a 3 percent salary raise, lifting his annual income to $156,560.

"He's being paid $150,000 a year for not being able to speak English," Boulet noted, telling CNSNews.com that in 1991, the last year he said accurate numbers could be gathered, the nation spent $8 billion on bilingual education.

The Tribune also revealed that in 2002, the city of Lawrence had the highest number of high school students fail the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test, a requirement for receiving a diploma.

"Our government, in its taxpayer-funded bilingual education programs, is keeping kids from learning English to the point where they don't even bother to see if the teachers are fluent in the language," Boulet said. "Our schools have been turned into pretty much money-burning machines. And that's how we measure our commitment to education, according to the liberals: by taking billions of dollars and flushing them, expect nothing of the students, expect nothing of the teachers, and then we wonder why education has declined in this country."

Lubinskas said the situation was symbolic.

"We're told that bilingual education is a bridge to English, that it's just there to help immigrant students get more English proficiency," Lubinskas said. "What we're seeing is, time and time again, students are coming out of bilingual education - sometimes after nine years - and not being able to be proficient in English. The fact that these teachers and the superintendent can't pass a basic English test, I think that says something about bilingual education."

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