Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, April 22, 1998
A Bilingual Bill at Last
The members of the California Legislature are masters of too little
too late. With an English-only ballot initiative just weeks from a public
vote, lawmakers who had dithered about bilingual education for a decade
finally approved a moderate reform measure. There is little chance that
the ballot measure, which would in effect do away with bilingual education,
will be affected by the measure passed Monday by the Legislature. Despite
all that, the bill, by state Sen. Dede Alpert (D-Coronado), deserves the
Alpert's SB 6 would set a realistic target
of moving children into regular English-only classes within three years.
Gov. Pete Wilson should sign this bill even though he has been justifiably
impatient with the Legislature's political foot-dragging on this emotional
issue. Also impatient are parents of the many limited-English children
who have attended California's public schools for years without learning
to read and write in English.
Bilingual reform passed this time around
with the help of new Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles),
who pushed the bill forward in his first months in the post. His predecessor,
Cruz Bustamante, stalled the bill last year under pressure from the legislative
Latino Caucus, which feared the political risks of change even as anti-bilingual
forces gathered steam for their ballot proposition. The political climate
has changed sharply since then with the surging campaign for Proposition
227, which would require almost all public school instruction to be in
The Alpert bill would encourage flexibility
and experimentation and require testing and reporting of results in two
years. If students failed to make progress in English proficiency and core
academic subjects, school districts would be required to revise their bilingual
instruction. Laggard districts might look to Calexico's successful bilingual
program or to Westminster and some other Orange County districts, which
will be experimenting with new systems as long as testing shows students
are not falling behind. The state board no longer requires waivers to try
something new, but under SB6 continued failure would trigger intervention,
including expert help, by the State Board of Education.
A key provision of the bill would require
daily English instruction by credentialed teachers and, when possible,
support from a trained aide who speaks the student's primary language.
The Alpert bill would improve bilingual education
for the nearly 25% of California public school students who need help learning
English. The bill is mild, educationally sound and long overdue.