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 next month).
     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.