Associated Press

Thursday, June 4, 1998

Texas Officials Not Aiming To Follow California

AUSTIN - Bilingual education isn't in danger of being dismantled in Texas - as long as it's working, Texas Gov. George W. Bush says.

The Republican said Wednesday that he's in no hurry to follow California's lead in doing away with the program.

"The ability to speak English is key to success in America. If a bilingual program is not teaching children to read and comprehend in English as quickly as possible, it should be eliminated," Bush said.

"But if a bilingual program is helping to achieve the goal of teaching children to read and comprehend in English, then we should applaud it and say well done."

State Board of Education member Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi, a Democrat, said Texas has a "very good bilingual program" that's monitored to make sure it is working properly.

Students entering the school system are tested to see if their English is so limited that they need bilingual education. Parents get a say in whether the student is placed into the program, and student performance is checked afterward, she said.

"I just know that where you have a good program, you have success stories. That's exactly what we want: children to be successful," Ms. Berlanga said.

"We want that for all the children in this state. It's to our benefit if we want to see a strong economy."

While some children who would have otherwise gone into bilingual education will succeed in school without it, a large number won't, Ms. Berlanga predicted.

"I feel sorry for the children who don't make it," she said. "They're dooming them for failure. I feel sorry for the state of California, and I especially feel sorry for the children of that state who have been abandoned by their leaders."

State Board of Education Chairman Jack Christie of Houston, a Republican, said there are some success stories in school districts that get large numbers of Spanish-speaking students.

But still, he said, improvement is needed in getting all Texas children proficient in English. One way to do that is by attracting more top-quality bilingual teachers, he said.

"I think it would be a mistake to take draconian measures like California. We've got to keep in mind that this state has a strong accountability system, and we hold all cultures highly accountable. I don't think California has that type of strong accountability system," Christie said.

"We need all children mastering the core subjects in this state, so we have to do anything and everything to bring them up to that standard."

Sen. Carlos Truan, author of the 1969 Texas Bilingual Education Act, said, "Bilingual education works, but it can be improved. We must focus on improving the bilingual education we have before we look elsewhere for a quick fix.

"In the age of globalization, citizens who are literate in more than one language supply us with intellectual capital that gives us an edge in the global market," added Truan, D-Corpus Christi.

Al Kauffman with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in San Antonio said students who need but don't get bilingual education may learn English after a year or two in the immersion system in a regular classroom. But they then will be "way behind in their content," he said.

MALDEF in California is involved in a lawsuit to halt implementation of Proposition 227 on bilingual education, which was approved Tuesday by California voters.

The proposition does away with bilingual education, instead assigning students to up to a year of an English immersion program. It includes $50 million annually for 10 years for tutoring.

Backers of the California proposition said the experience of earlier generations show children can quickly pick up English. They said the current system means children fall behind their peers who are taught in English.

Kauffman said he doesn't expect a similar Texas movement. Proposals to weaken bilingual education have failed in recent legislative sessions, he said.

"I do think both houses (of the Legislature) and both parties realize that bilingual education has been very positive here," Kauffman said. "I'm not going to say there are no critics. I think there is ... support for the idea that a bilingual education program that is well-run is good for the students here."