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Debating The English-Only Law In Mass. High Schools

This article is more than 10 years old.

Nearly a quarter of new immigrant high school students eventually drop out of school. Their test scores lag far behind English speakers, even in math where language doesn't matter as much. That's led advocates to argue the state education system is failing newcomers.

Imagine you're a teenager from El Salvador. You don't speak English. You enroll in high school.

The school puts you in English immersion classes, four hours a day. The rest of the school day, you study math and art. After a year of this, you start taking more math, plus history and science all in your strange, new language.

"The first year was horrible," says David Villanueva, a student at Chelsea high school. "I didn't know a lot of English. Almost nothing. It was a problem because I didn't understand what the teachers were saying to me."

Villanueva spent the whole first year trying to understand.

"I wanted to leave school, he says. "I [said], 'I don't want to go to school, because English [is] hard.' And my teachers, they made me speak English a la fuerza. They said if you speak Spanish in the classroom, we're going to give you detention."

This is an excerpt of a special Project Dropout report. To see and hear the full story, go to

This program aired on March 16, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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