Los Angeles Times

Sunday, April 26, 1998

Bilingual Education Controversy

Were there really "benefits in English immersion" as reported April 18?
     We are told only that "almost a quarter" of the limited English proficient children in Orange improved their oral fluency by "at least one level" after five months.
     What happened to the other three-quarters? What does one level mean? On most measures of oral fluency, there are five levels, and level 4 is considered good enough to function in English in a mainstream class.
     If this kind of measure was used, it means that these children made very little progress, and would be nowhere near ready for the mainstream after one year, the limit imposed by Proposition 227.
Professor of Education

     As the English department chair at Orangeview Junior High School in Anaheim, I am extremely concerned about the disastrous implications of Proposition 227, the "English only" initiative.
     While all the attention is on how to teach immigrant children English, no one is talking about what will happen to our mainstream academic classes and "regular" students if this initiative takes effect.
     Placing limited English proficient children into regular classes after only one year of sheltered English support might sound like a good idea, but what about our mainstream kids?
     What will happen to the quality of their education when one-third to one-half of their peers are not fluent in English? Rather than leave the LEP students behind, most teachers, who by their nature are generally altruistic and caring, will alter their curriculum and slow down the rate of instruction.
     With mainstream teachers already facing daunting challenges of large classes, integration of emotionally and physically challenged students, influences of gangs and drugs, and low parental support, dealing with a large influx of limited English-speaking students will only exacerbate the problem.
     It will result in further "dumbing down" of the core curriculum for mainstream American children.
     Proposition 227 is yet another attempt at a rigid, statewide mandate that does not address the needs of mainstream and LEP children caught in the cross-fire between liberals and conservatives.

     Re "A Bilingual Bill at Last," editorial, April 22: The bilingual debate is the same as the phonics debate, all or nothing. Real teachers know that the middle ground is the only thing that works for the vast majority of students.
     Fountain Valley has been using specially designed academic instruction in English with native language aides for years. This method has been far more successful than any of the districts cited in your editorial. In fact, leaders from Fountain Valley (Project GLAD) have been awarded the academic excellence rating at the national level every year since 1991. They deserved the award!
LARRY SEVERSON, Fountain Valley

     Victoria Lee-Jerrems and Ellen Wu (Opinion, April 19) spelled out very clearly why we must vote against Prop. 227. Being bilingual has tremendous advantages in today's global economy. For that reason I chose to place my two sons in bilingual programs. They will not be part of another generation of "tongue-tied" Americans.
     Could it be that Ron Unz and his supporters fear that Latino Americans and Asian Pacific American students will have a linguistic and economic advantage over those students who choose not to learn another language?

     In "Supporters of Bilingual Education Go on the Offensive" (April 17), Gloria Matta Tuchman, a candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, was quoted as saying, "The people will decide, not activist groups or people who are trying to promote their own political agenda."
     Among the strongest supporters of the goals of bilingual education are neither "activists" nor people with a "political agenda." Rather they are research scholars and language educators who know that the preponderance of psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic research related to the education of linguistic minority students in our schools validates and supports the principles of bilingual education.
     If Tuchman is aware of this literature and chooses to ignore it, it is she who is playing the political game. If she is unaware of the research, then she certainly should not be elected to a position that calls for informed decisions.
RUSSELL N. CAMPBELL, Professor Emeritus, Applied Linguistics, UCLA