Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, July 28, 1998

Scrambling Toward 227

In less than a week, Los Angeles parents of children with limited English ability will begin deciding how their offspring should be educated, now that traditional bilingual education has been scrapped by Proposition 227. During that same period, the Los Angeles Unified School District--the first big district in the state to implement 227--will be scrambling to have programs ready for year-round schools that begin new terms Monday.

Despite the short preparation time and its long-standing opposition to Proposition 227, the LAUSD has conscientiously developed a framework to implement the switch from long-term bilingual classes to one short year of intense English-language immersion.

The plan, which the LAUSD board is likely to approve today, is a work in progress. It also is controversial simply because the district is moving into uncharted territory, interpreting the vague language of Proposition 227. Guidelines are still being fashioned, curricula developed and textbooks sought for the English immersion programs mandated by the initiative. The only exceptions are the district's few charter schools, which the state Department of Education said Monday are not subject to Proposition 227.

To its credit, the LAUSD is proceeding while other districts such as Oakland and San Francisco are defiantly holding out, awaiting the outcome of court challenges.

In Orange County, the two school districts with the biggest enrollments of limited-English students are well behind the LAUSD. The Anaheim City School District, whose year-round schools are in session, has until Nov. 1 to develop its Proposition 227 programs. Santa Ana Unified School District officials say they are intensely working on immersion programs for year-round schools but still are using native-language instruction. Clearly, all eyes will be on Los Angeles.

Under the LAUSD's still-sketchy plan, parents have four options: In the so- called Model A, students would be intensively taught English for most of their day, though aides would be available to help in the students' native languages. Under Model B, students would still be taught mostly in English, but certified bilingual teachers, who have more training than the helpers used in Model A, would be in the classroom. It's vague, and no doubt purposely so, how much native-language teaching would take place; Proposition 227 backers are unhappy about that vagueness. Parents may also seek waivers to transfer a child into a mainstream all-English class or a traditional bilingual program.

Until parents respond to school district letters with their choices, the district will not have enrollment numbers for the various options, and a fair amount of confusion is a certainty. Still, the LAUSD is providing a plan that incorporates the flexibility needed to address children of varying skills and circumstances. Its eventual success will depend on the energy and commitment of the individual principals and teachers who will be implementing the plans in the classroom.