Saturday, November 7, 1998
A Classroom View of Prop. 227
Seventeen of Perla Chavez's 20 first-graders at Cerritos Elementary
School are getting some instruction in Spanish.
By RODNEY TANAKA
GLENDALE -- Backers of Proposition 227 believed bilingual education
was a failed experiment that doesn't help students learn English.
Opponents of Proposition 227 believed it
took away from successful local programs that worked, imposing one untested
method for the entire state.
First-grade teacher Perla Chavez, who works
at Cerritos Elementary in the Glendale Unified School District, just wants
her students to learn to read.
Proposition 227, approved by California voters in the June 2 election,
dictates that a majority of instruction must be in English.
In Chavez's class, 17 of the 20 families,
as allowed by 227, still requested some Spanish instruction. A 30-day waiting
period put her behind schedule, Chavez said, and she said she feels like
time is working against her.
Those who criticize bilingual education should
spend a week in her class, Chavez said.
"I talk to them in English, we're doing
math and social studies in English and we have English language development,
45 minutes of only English speaking," Chavez said. "Once they're
able to read one language, reading the second is easier. Also with vocabulary,
if they're reading a language they don't know, they won't understand what
During a September visit, Chavez worked on
the letter "z" with a small group of her first-graders, asking
what words they know that begin with the letter. Students often responded
with Spanish words such as "zoologico," and Chavez asked them
how to say that in English.
"We usually start right away working
on sounds," Chavez said. "I feel like I'm on hold. Kids are ready
to go, but we're not giving them an opportunity to go on."
English is difficult to read, while Spanish
is phonetic and easier, Chavez said, and the English vocabulary is not
familiar to her students.
"We're bombarding them with vocabulary,"
Chavez said. "My goal is to have them reading and writing and meeting
all curriculum. My standards haven't been lowered, there's just more hurdles
Proposition 227 included the ability for
parents to submit exception waivers after a 30-day waiting period. After
carefully examining the programs offered at the school, parents could request
their children be placed in a primary language program.
About 100, or nearly 20%, of an enrollment
of 544 at Cerritos requested instruction in Spanish, Bishop said. Those
students are provided support in Spanish in the classroom, Bishop said,
with a continued focus on English as a second language. About 460, or 85%,
of Cerritos families speak Spanish.
Franklin Elementary, which had 268 of 455
students classified limited-English proficient in the spring 1998 survey,
had very few waiver requests, according to Joanna Junge, coordinator of
curriculum and intercultural education.
Franklin has an after-school instructional
program that provides Spanish instruction.
Franklin purchased textbooks to teach the
English language to Spanish speakers prior to the implementation of Proposition
Approval of the initiative raised questions
about what the materials could be used for, but Franklin can now use them
in the after-school program and share with other schools, said Franklin
Principal Linda Russo Milano.
"Our Spanish bilingual program was so
strong. I'm sorry Unz never visited us," she said of Proposition 227
author Ron Unz.
District-wide, 13,331 of Glendale Unified's
29,963 students are considered limited-English proficient, according to
a spring 1998 Census report. Of these limited-English proficient students,
6,627 are Armenian-speaking, 4,459 are Spanish-speaking and 1,056 are Korean-speaking.
Year-round schools began Proposition 227
implementation Oct. 26, and the district does not know how many waivers
it has received.