Los Angeles Times
Thursday, October 22, 1998
Bilingual Classes Still Thriving in Wake of Prop. 227
Education: In L.A. Unified, about 10% return to native-language
instruction; figure is as high as 90% elsewhere. Measure allows parents
By NICK ANDERSON, LOUIS SAHAGUN, Times Staff Writers
After a one-month stint in English-intensive classes required by a new
state law, tens of thousands of California students with limited English
skills are heading back into bilingual education this fall at the request
of their parents.
Close to 12,000 of those students are in
the Los Angeles Unified School District, data provided to The Times on
Though sizable, that number pales next to
the about 107,000 Los Angeles students who were in formal bilingual classes
before voters last June approved Proposition 227. Many of the students
who are enrolled in English "immersion" classes actually get
substantial help in their native languages.
Preliminary figures reported last week in
Orange County showed that of the roughly 150,000 students who are not fluent
in English, about 3,000 have returned to bilingual classrooms. Santa Ana
Unified turned up the most requests, with more than 2,000. Placentia-Yorba
Linda Unified came in second with roughly 1,000.
And surprisingly, other heavily immigrant
areas such as Anaheim and Fullerton received so few inquiries that the
schools lack the numbers necessary to form bilingual classes.
The information made public Wednesday showed
a larger number of students elsewhere in the state returning to bilingual
Districts in Oxnard, Pomona, San Jose and
elsewhere report far heavier streams of limited-English students--up to
80% and 90% in some cases--flowing back into hastily formed bilingual classrooms.
There, stories can once again be read as cuentos and mathematics and science
taught as matematica y ciencia.
The initial data show Proposition 227 has
hit bilingual education much like a tornado hopscotching through a subdivision,
obliterating some programs and leaving others virtually untouched.
The number of students returning to bilingual
education statewide--most of them Spanish-speaking--is large enough to
belie the assumption of many voters and pundits that Proposition 227 would
erase a method of teaching that for decades has attracted fierce critics
and stubborn loyalists.
Supporters of the proposition had campaigned
on the slogan "Let's teach English to all of California's children
and end bilingual education by June 1998."
School administrators, most of whom opposed the ballot measure, say the
return to bilingual classrooms is entirely consistent with the new law.
While the proposition requires schools to teach students in English, it
also allows parents to pull children out of English immersion classrooms
after 30 days under certain circumstances.
Complex Aftermath of Prop. 227
As often happens when the broad strokes
of politics give way to the ambiguities of law and administration, the
aftermath of Proposition 227 has proved complex. Bilingual education has
certainly not ended in California, interviews and records show, nor will
it any time soon.
"There is room in our schools for bilingual
education programs and English language acquisition programs," said
Forrest Ross, a Los Angeles school official overseeing implementation of
Proposition 227. "And we're seeing this happen. They're side by side
Statewide, 1.4 million students in public
schools are not fluent in English. Of those, about three in 10 were taught
last school year in their native languages, often for as much as 70%, 80%
or even 90% of the school day. Many had gone for years without becoming
fluent in English. Those were the programs that Republican businessman
Ron Unz targeted when he sponsored the first state voter initiative in
the nation to curtail bilingual teaching.
Data provided to The Times by several key
school districts show that Unz has accomplished his goal in many areas.
Given the choice between keeping children
in the English-based classes in which they began the school year or seeking
permission to put them back into bilingual education, many parents choose
English. For many, it was simply a matter of not wanting to change teachers
In Fresno and Santa Ana, bilingual programs
have shrunk considerably. In Paramount Unified, Mountain View Elementary
and Long Beach Unified--three Los Angeles County districts that had large
bilingual programs--few parents have expressed interest in so-called "waivers"
to keep their children in those programs.
Even in Los Angeles Unified, which Unz has
criticized for allegedly failing to move vigorously to stamp out native
language instruction, scores of schools report that few or no parents have
filed petitions to put their children back into bilingual classes. District
officials predict that the tally will grow in coming months, as the law
"If we've reduced the number of students
in bilingual education in Los Angeles by 90% in the first year, in the
face of massive resistance, that's a pretty good start," Unz said.
However, Unz charged that tens of thousands
more Los Angeles students are getting a watered-down form of bilingual
education under the table. He complained that some classes created to comply
with the initiative are English immersion in name only.
Major Support in Some Districts
The data released Wednesday show more
than 96,000 limited-English students are now in a program that the Los
Angeles district says gives students instruction "primarily"
in English, along with "support" in their native language from
Bilingual education enjoys substantial backing
in some areas outside Los Angeles.
In San Jose Unified and Alum Rock Union Elementary
districts in Santa Clara County, the number of students returning to bilingual
education this year will be more than half of last year's total. In Oxnard
and Hueneme elementary districts in Ventura County, officials report a
return rate exceeding 80% and 90%, respectively. San Francisco schools
report almost no students dropping out of bilingual classes.
"Our parents and our community have
faith in our school district efforts and programs," said Cassandra
George, an assistant superintendent in Pomona Unified, where at least 3,500
students are projected to return to bilingual education, compared to 5,461
before the election.
The emerging data on parent response to Proposition
227 is significant because many parents now have a voice in the debate
for the first time. The initiative was approved by 61% of a spring primary
electorate tilted toward white, middle-class, older voters.
This time, Latino parents, many of whom could
not or did not vote, dominate the "electorate." They can "vote"
by applying for a waiver at any time in the school year. Virtually all
applications get approved, although the law says that younger students
must have "special" educational needs to qualify for a bilingual
Predictably, each side of the bilingual debate
charges that parents are being misled by propaganda from the other side.
Some pro-bilingual teachers complain that they have been gagged by school
administrators. Some anti-bilingual education critics allege that teachers
and principals have done everything for parents to get a waiver except
sign the forms.
But perhaps a greater problem for parents
seeking to make an informed decision is the impenetrability of education
jargon. The Los Angeles district produced a videotape in an attempt to
clarify the choices between what it calls "Model A" English immersion,
"Model B" English immersion, "regular" English-language
classes, "basic" bilingual education and "dual" bilingual
education. At the end of a 23-minute segment in Spanish, administrator
Forrest Ross told viewers, "Thank you, goodbye and good luck."
Many of the parent responses defied easy
At Belvedere Elementary School in East Los
Angeles, where 826 children were in bilingual programs before the election,
just 19 petitions had been filed to put them back into those programs--and
three were later withdrawn. The numbers could rise as the year-round school
continues to put the new law into effect.
Still, Principal Robert G. Quihuis said:
"I'll be honest with you. I'm really surprised."
Mothers picking up their children after school
weren't surprised. One said she chose an English track because her 9-year-old
daughter liked it more. Others said they had nothing against bilingual
education in theory, but preferred English for their own children.
"I was considering a waiver, but I decided
not to because I feel she should just learn English. I think she will be
better off," said Myra Camarillo, whose 6-year-old daughter, Bernice,
is now in first grade after spending a year in a bilingual kindergarten.
"It was a tough decision. I do want her to know Spanish. But at school
she can learn English, at home Spanish."
Sentiment was reversed at another campus
barely a mile away.
Waiting at the counter in the front office
at Eastman Avenue Elementary School recently, Rosa Valencia buttonholed
a campus bilingual coordinator and asked, "Did I get it? Did I get
Valencia feared that she had not filled out
the application correctly for her 7-year-old daughter, Karina. She smiled
broadly when the coordinator told her that the request had been granted.
In all, the school issued 883 waivers.
Later, with her second-grader at her side,
Valencia, a native of Mexico, said: "I believe in the bilingual program--and
all of my six children speak Spanish. We all support the first language
in our home, as well as the second language spoken in our school community."
Added Karina, "I like speaking two languages."
Orange County school districts have replaced bilingual education with
English-only instruction. But under Proposition 227, parents can file waivers
after 30 days of English-only instruction, asking that children be taught
in their primary language. Most districts have not received any requests.
Here are those that have:
Anaheim City: 10
Anaheim Union High: 123
Placentia-Yorba Linda: 1,000
Santa Ana Unified: 2,037
Note: Figures for all districts are preliminary.
Source: Individual districts
Researched by LIZ SEYMOUR / Los Angeles Times
Bilingual Vote, Take 2
Parents in California are choosing this fall whether to put their children
with limited English skills into English-intensive classes, required by
Proposition 227, or to seek permission for them to continue in bilingual
education. Here are the 20 districts with the most students in bilingual
classes before the initiative passed in June, and the number of waiver
applications each had received as of mid-October. Few applicants have been
turned down. Some districts provided partial tallies or estimates.
* * * School district: Los Angeles Unified
Students in bilingual classes: 107,226
Waiver requests: 11,809
* * * School district: San Diego City Unified
Students in bilingual classes: 12,704
Waiver requests: NA
* * * School district: Long Beach Unified (Los Angeles County)
Students in bilingual classes: 12,093
Waiver requests: No plans for waivers
* * * School district: Santa Ana Unified (Orange County)
Students in bilingual classes: 11,029
Waiver requests: 2,037
* * * School district: Montebello Unified (Los Angeles County)
Students in bilingual classes: 10,896
Waiver requests: NA
* * * School district: *San Francisco Unified
Students in bilingual classes: 8,210
Waiver requests: Nearly all
* * * School district: Oxnard Elementary (Ventura County)
Students in bilingual classes: 5,773
Waiver requests: 4,650
* * * School district: Pajaro Valley Joint Unified (Santa Cruz County)
Students in bilingual classes: 5,471
Waiver requests: 3,049
* * * School district: Pomona Unified (Los Angeles County)
Students in bilingual classes: 5,461
Waiver requests: 3,500
* * * School district: Mountain View Elementary (Los Angeles County)
Students in bilingual classes: 5,330
Waiver requests: 400
* * * School district: San Bernardino City Unified (San Bernardino County)
Students in bilingual classes: 4,888
Waiver requests: Many expected
* * * School district: San Jose Unified (Santa Clara County)
Students in bilingual classes: 4,560
Waiver requests: 2,635
* * * School district: Alum Rock Union Elementary (Santa Clara County)
Students in bilingual classes: 4,326
Waiver requests: 2,840
* * * School district: Paramount Unified (Los Angeles County)
Students in bilingual classes: 4,283
Waiver requests: Few expected
* * * School district: Fresno Unified (Fresno County)
Students in bilingual classes: 4,215
Waiver requests: 1,200
* * * School district: Compton Unified (Los Angeles County)
Students in bilingual classes: 3,996
Waiver requests: 200
* * * School district: Alisal Union Elementary (Monterey County)
Students in bilingual classes: 3,915
Waiver requests: Nearly all
* * * School district: Vista Unified (San Diego County)
Students in bilingual classes: 3,582
Waiver requests: Half expected
* * * School district: Hueneme Elementary (Ventura County)
Students in bilingual classes: 3,532
Waiver requests: Nearly all
* * * School district: Coachella Valley Unified (Riverside County)
Students in bilingual classes: 3,529
Waiver requests: Many sought
* Note: San Francisco Unified contends that it is required to offer bilingual
classes under a federal court order.
Sources: California Department of Education, school districts