Los Angeles Times
Sunday, January 17, 1999
EDITORIAL: Teachers Show the Way
The initial results are encouraging, six months after Proposition 227
replaced traditional bilingual education with a nearly exclusive emphasis
on English in the classroom. Pupils who could barely speak a word of English
when school started are acquiring spoken English at a surprising pace,
and some are learning to read and write in English.
This progress report, based on interviews
by Times education writer Louis Sahagun with primary teachers at 13 Los
Angeles elementary schools, is not the final word on Proposition 227. Only
time and test results will tell if this structured English-immersion method
delivers what its backers promised: rapid academic fluency in English.
California's previous approach to teaching
children who lacked English fluency was a hodgepodge, further hampered
by uneven implementation of bilingual instruction, a severe shortage of
bilingual teachers and ideological battles over culture and language. In
the end, politics were too often put ahead of the best interests of the
children and the wishes of the parents.
The result of this frustrating impasse was
Proposition 227. Teach in English, it demanded, and do it now. But one
reason the measure may be working is that schools are implementing it more
flexibly than it was written. The Times opposed 227 not because of its
goal--swift English fluency--but because it allowed little leeway in achieving
the goal. In practice, however, many teachers have used Spanish to explain
abstract concepts and help puzzled learners. The result, no surprise to
anyone who has spent any time around young children, is that students are
absorbing the English language like a sponge.
The new law took effect in August, shortly
before the traditional start of school. As instructors taught only in English,
and scrambled to figure out what was allowed under the new state law, some
tearful children and their anxious parents complained that they didn't
Some educators worried that this untested
approach would damage the self-esteem of children and hold them back academically.
Yet, reports from the classroom indicate tensions have dissipated, more
teachers are in a positive mood and many children are excited and eager
How much they have actually learned will
be measured in the spring on the statewide standardized Stanford 9 test.
Some education experts say they expect scores to dip during the first couple
of years of 227, as English learners take the test in English at a time
when they are not performing academically at even close to grade level.
But whether or not scores do dip further, at least they will provide the
many educators who are studying the effects of Proposition 227 a baseline
and insight into what is working.
In the classrooms where the 227 approach
is producing encouraging results, the credit belongs to teachers, who are
proving they will do whatever it takes to teach all children. Many teachers
were understandably frightened about the possible effects of 227. But a
growing number of them have put aside their fears and pushed ahead to make
it work. Good for them.
English language education must work in a
state where the most popular name given baby boys is Jose and where a majority
of Latino children, including many born in this country, do not speak English
when they start school. Their success will raise the state's overall student
performance. Their failure could cripple their future, and the future of
Proposition 227 may not be the complete answer
to the problems of bilingual education. It may not even be the best answer.
But, six months after the law took effect, something appears to be working.
It goes to show that little miracles can occur in the classroom when children's
needs are put ahead of adult agendas.