Los Angeles Times
Friday, January 16, 1998
Santa Barbara Schools Seek to End Bilingual Education
Language: In requesting state waiver, district cites lack of
academic achievement by Latino students.
By RICHARD LEE COLVIN, SCOTT HADLY, Times Staff Writers
SANTA BARBARA--Driven by dissatisfaction with the faltering academic
achievement of Latino students, the school board has become the fifth in
California to seek to officially scrap its bilingual program in favor of
one stressing lessons in English.
The board's unanimous vote came late Wednesday,
at a raucous five-hour meeting that drew more than 600 parents, teachers
and students and 110 speakers, the vast majority of whom objected to the
The board must still seek a waiver of California's
bilingual education policy from the State Board of Education. The state
has readily granted waivers to four other districts, all in Orange County.
The Santa Barbara decision affects the 2,700
of the district's 6,000 students who are not fluent in English. It fuels
the campaign to end bilingual education as the state's preferred method
of instruction for the one in five students who lacks English proficiency.
A statewide ballot initiative that would virtually abolish bilingual instruction
is to be voted on in June.
The plan to teach all children in English
has created tension across Santa Barbara. Opponents accused board members
of racism or even genocide during the month it was under discussion.
Leading up to the board meeting, about 350
children boycotted their classes, gathering at a community center instead.
"The board in their vote . . . continued
their arrogance toward the very people they serve, which are parents and
kids," said Ruben Rey, a community activist whose children have attended
Although Santa Barbara would be only the
fifth to get a state waiver, more than half the districts in California
with students not fluent in English do not provide them with help in their
"I understand the emotional angst of
those who didn't want this change, I really, really do," said board
President Fred Rifkin.
But, he added, for every study supporting
bilingual methods, another debunks them. In addition, board members have
what they believe is powerful evidence that Santa Barbara's bilingual program
Basic skills test scores in the elementary
grades show that Latino students are lagging. That achievement gap widens
as Latino students progress through school. Only 14% of Latinos in the
Santa Barbara district take the SAT, which most four-year colleges require
for admission, and their overall scores are 80 points below those of African
American students--the next highest group. Of those who went through the
bilingual program, not a single student last year scored above 1,000 out
of a possible 1,600 points on the college entrance exam. "With
that sort of data, what we could say in Santa Barbara was that this was
a program that was not working and it was time for a radical change,"
said Lanny Ebenstein, a longtime board member who spearheaded the move.
Rey conceded that the current bilingual program
needs improvement. But he said the program could not be evaluated fairly
because it had changed frequently in the past 23 years and many teachers
hired for it were not fluent in Spanish.
"They are scapegoating bilingual education,"
Board members said children will not be allowed
to simply flounder in English-only classes.
Times staff writer Nick Anderson contributed
to this story.