Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, August 5, 1998
Encouraging Debut for Prop. 227
The first test of Proposition 227 was nothing like Armageddon, despite
the predictions of opponents of the English-only measure. Teachers, often
tackling the change without a new curriculum or appropriate textbooks,
deserve credit for the quietly encouraging start. Now it's up to the state
and the local school districts to carry through with new curriculum guides
(promised in Los Angeles by Aug. 20), lesson plans and books (promised
L.A. teachers took the lead on Monday at
50 public schools that operate on a year-round schedule. Bilingual teachers
taught largely in English, giving little assists in Spanish. Students appeared
to quietly cope, helping one another and asking for translations when they
needed them. So far, few parents have chosen to seek waivers that would
allow their children to remain in traditional bilingual classes, but the
school year is still new.
In Ventura County's year-round classrooms,
many teachers, like those in L.A., depended on improvisation and hand gestures
to get their points across in English. Two Orange County school districts
with large immigrant populations received a short reprieve; officials of
the Santa Ana Unified and Anaheim City school districts declared that their
school year officially began last Friday, before the new state law officially
took effect on Sunday. The technicality gave them extra weeks to get rid
of bilingual classes.
The Saddleback Valley Unified and Capistrano
Unified school districts, with fewer limited-English students, have asked
the state for a special dispensation to preserve "dual-immersion"
classes, the most highly rated form of bilingual education. These two-way
programs teach nearly equal numbers of children who speak English or another
language--most often Spanish--to be proficient in both languages. The programs,
including the very successful Korean-English classes at Cahuengua Elementary
in the Mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles, should be fostered. State
Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, who faces a November runoff
against Gloria Matta Tuchman, an early backer of Proposition 227, should
grant waivers for all dual-immersion programs. They do not represent an
attempt to circumvent the new law, and they encourage native English speakers
to become bilingual.
Eastin has also appointed a task force chaired
by the superintendents of the Calexico and Pasadena school districts to
determine what makes a good English-immersion program. With the help of
teachers, administrators, researchers and parents this group should quickly
develop recommendations that teachers can turn to practical use in their
classrooms. Willingness and individual inspiration can carry a classroom
only so far.
The real test of English-immersion teaching
will come Sept. 8 when the regular school year starts statewide. Proposition
227 came about because bilingual education was failing thousands of students;
this story will have a good ending only when limited-English children routinely
succeed, whatever methods of instruction emerge.