Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, February 10, 1998

Bilingual Classes Get Support in Poll
Education: Survey of Latino parents reports that 68% favor the programs. But 43% of respondents also approve of a ballot measure to outlaw them.
By CARLA RIVERA, Times Staff Writer

Most Latino parents believe bilingual programs are good for their children and give generally high marks to the overall quality of education in the Los Angeles Unified School District, according to a new poll commissioned by the newspaper La Opinion and television station KVEA Channel 52.
     Sixty-eight percent of the respondents said they favored bilingual education and 26% opposed it. Of those parents with children in bilingual programs, 88% said such education benefited their children, while only 10% said they thought such programs were bad.
     But the survey, released Monday, yielded somewhat mixed views on a June ballot measure that seeks to dismantle California's system of bilingual education. While 49% of respondents said they would oppose the measure, 43% said they would favor it.
     Pollster Sergio Bendixen said the responses tended to show that while most Latino parents support bilingual programs in the abstract, they remain confused about the ballot measure.
     Indeed, when the initiative was described to respondents, they were highly supportive of one component that would allow non-English-speaking children to attend a short-term intensive English course.
     "There is no rule saying you can't be both for bilingual education and for an immersion course," Bendixen said. "There may be some confusion now on the part of parents about what the measure would do. I think once the campaigns for and against start . . . you will see less divided opinion."
     The poll surveyed 503 Latino adults who have children attending Los Angeles district schools. The margin of error for the entire sample was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
     Two hundred of the respondents had children who attended bilingual programs. The margin of error for this group was plus or minus 7 percentage points. Sixty-five percent of parents chose to be surveyed in Spanish.
     The anti-bilingual measure, sponsored by Silicon Valley businessman Ron Unz and Orange County teacher Gloria Matta Tuchman, would require that virtually all classroom instruction be conducted in English.
     Proponents argue that the current bilingual system is ineffective and that children are not learning English.
     Alice Callaghan, executive director of Las Familias del Pueblo community center and an Unz supporter, questioned the methodology of the survey and the impartiality of the survey takers.
     "The Spanish-language media have been hostile to the initiative from the day it was introduced," she said. "They have a lot at stake ensuring that immigrants continue to read and write Spanish. There is nothing bilingual about the system in Los Angeles. The district has monolingual programs and I'd be surprised if you sat down and explained to people what was actually happening here that you'd get the responses that they did."
     Callaghan cited other public opinion polls, including one conducted by the Los Angeles Times in October that showed broad support for the Unz initiative. In the Times poll, Latino voters statewide supported the initiative by an 84% to 16% margin.
     Rudy Bernal, a Los Angeles district specialist in bilingual education, agreed that La Opinion's survey results tended to confirm the opinion of many bilingual specialists that many parents are confused about the Unz measure and what bilingual education means.
     "Parents at large don't understand that you don't acquire proficiency in academic English, the English they need to compete at high schools, universities and in the job market, in just a year," Bernal said. "We have to do a better job of educating parents about what bilingual education means."
     Among other major poll findings:
* Seventy-six percent of parents polled said the quality of education their children receive is excellent or good. Teachers and principals also received high marks.
* A significant portion of Latino parents--41%--are concerned about school security and believe neighborhoods in which schools are located are dangerous and crime-ridden.
* Many parents in the survey--54%--did not know who Supt. Ruben Zacarias was, and of those who did, 30% believed he has not kept his promise of substantially increasing the number of text books in classrooms.
     Brad Sales, a spokesman for the superintendent, said it was not surprising that many parents did not recognize Zacarias' name because he has been on the job for only seven months. And Sales said that nonrecognition has probably contributed to perceptions on the textbook promise.
     Sales said that the district has substantially increased its budget for purchasing books and is well on its way to ensuring that by the end of this school year, each student has the books that he or she needs.