While secretary of education Richard Riley's endorsement of so-called two-way bilingual education hardly marks a departure from liberal devotion to Spanish-language instruction, it does suggest that critics of bilingualism are making headway. Traditional bilingual programs insist
that kids be taught in their native language for several years before making a transition into English; the method Riley lauded yesterday strikes more of a balance, with students switching back and forth between English and another language. The catch is that sometimes the split isn't 50-50, but 90 percent native language and only 10 percent English. Perhaps that's why the National Association of Bilingual Educators warmly supported his statement. Riley said he wants to quadruple the number of
Dual immersion, as it's occasionally called, works well for English-speaking kids trying to pick up a second language. Its success among children struggling to learn English is much spottier. "It does a
disservice to language-minority children who desperately need to learn English as quickly as possible," says Linda Chavez of the Center for Equal
Opportunity, a think tank opposed to bilingual education. "English is the language they'll have to function in their whole lives."
There was no pressing political reason for Riley to do what he did; George W. Bush's position on bilingual education is indistinguishable from the Clinton administration's. But this fall Arizona voters are expected to vote on an anti-bilingual-education ballot initiative modeled on California's Proposition 227, and one or more other states may follow suit.
New York governor George Pataki didn't seem like a man interested in becoming George W. Bush's running mate, as he is said to be, when he introduced gun-control legislation in Albany recently. But that may be the point, suggests his Democratic predecessor Mario Cuomo, in today's New
: "This now provides him with a way to explain why he won't be selected for vice president by Bush," says Cuomo. "This allows him to say,
'I wasn't picked because I have a principled position on gun control.'"