Los Angeles Times
Thursday, October 15, 1998
The Battle Over Prop. 227 Is Far From Over . . .
Bilingual ed: Teachers and administrators give overt signs of
compliance while covertly undermining the measure.
By DOUGLAS LASKEN
When Proposition 227 passed on June 2, voters thought that students
would be taught only in English. But the battle over bilingual education
in California is far from over. The minority who lost are fighting back.
In Los Angeles Unified School District, the
battle against the measure is waged covertly under outward compliance.
Teachers learn about Proposition 227 policies twice: first in the dry and
ambiguous language of district and union memos, then verbally and in surprising
new forms at union meetings.
I attended one such meeting in August. Theresa
Montano, who heads the United Teachers of Los Angeles' Bilingual Committee,
spoke concerning the district's interpretation of Proposition 227. The
first thing she said was a surprise: The district allows that in English
immersion classes, up to 49% of the day's instruction can be in Spanish.
In other words, a story may be read to students in English but the "concepts"
may be explained in Spanish. Bulletin boards may be in Spanish. In addition,
a teacher in classrooms where children speak little or no English must
have the old-style bilingual credential certifying fluency in Spanish and,
not incidentally, conferring on the teacher an extra $5,000 a year.
Montano said at the meeting that the district
officials who were developing this policy shared "our struggle."
But others might question whether this policy represents English immersion,
i.e., "overwhelmingly in the English language," called for in
Montano then discussed the waiver provision
of Proposition 227, which provides that a parent can seek bilingual education
for a child under certain circumstances, including "emotional, educational
and psychological" needs. The assumption has been that the burden
of proof in these cases will rest on the parents. But Montano told us that
the district had promised that every waiver will be granted. All a parent
must assert, Montano went on, is that the child "needs" or "wants"
bilingual instruction or is "nervous" about only-in-English instruction.
Montano said it was imperative that teachers communicate to all parents
that the waiver was the best choice.
A group of bilingual teachers and representatives
from the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund and the Los Angeles County
Board of Education then explained that, since it is illegal to promote
avoidance of English immersion on school time, we should hold after-school
meetings to bring parents the word. The speakers
passed out applications for permits authorizing use of school auditoriums
for such meetings. They promised 1,000 free flyers to announce each meeting
to parents plus training for teachers in how to conduct the meetings. We
received a hotline number to report instances when parents were not fully
informed of their right to avoid English immersion.
A few weeks after this meeting, I attended
UTLA's leadership conference in Palm Springs, where Montano and the district's
top bilingual official, Forrest Ross, explained that English alphabet and
letter sounds would not be taught in English immersion classes in kindergarten
and first grade per "proven" bilingual theory. Only children
receiving bilingual education under the waiver would learn English alphabet
and letter sounds. If you find that confusing, join the club.
Irate teachers pointed out that Latino parents would, in effect, be forced
to choose the bilingual waiver in order to have phonics taught to their
children. Ross replied that research has shown this to be best.
So what we have here, it seems, is a collaboration
of district and union officials and bilingual teachers to keep Spanish
instruction in the classroom with its attendant flow of money and perks
in a seeming attempt at an end-run around the intent of 227 and the will
of the voters.
Lawsuits from supporters of English immersion
are in the offing. The outcome of this struggle, which is just beginning,
should answer the question of whether a popular initiative with virtually
no legal problems can be implemented. Douglas
Lasken Is a Fifth-grade Teacher and Teachers' Union Representative at Ramona
Elementary School in Hollywood.