Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, May 6, 1998
Sensible Bilingual Reform
Gov. Pete Wilson is right that the bilingual education reform law just
enacted by the Legislature is a "baby step" toward reform and
that it lacks tough enforcement. But Wilson should sign it because it heads
in the right direction, giving school districts greater flexibility in
how they teach children who speak little or no English, requiring regular
testing to measure progress and mandating change in the face of continued
SB 6, sponsored by state Sen. Dede Alpert (D-Coronado), would require each
school district to provide daily English language instruction, to use fully
qualified teachers in these classes and try to provide support in the child's
primary language. It's hard to believe that these minimal standards are
not already on the books, but they're not. The bill would require regular
testing of language and academic abilities. Revisions would be required
after two years if bilingual students performed below the district average.
After four years
of poor results, major program changes would be called for. Taken together,
these standards should prevent children from being trapped in ineffective
bilingual programs for as many as seven years, emerging still not academically
fluent in English--a ridiculously frequent occurrence in Los Angeles schools.
The Alpert bill
should become law even though Wilson is leaning toward endorsing Proposition
227, the ballot initiative that would limit bilingual education to one
year of English immersion instruction unless parents get waivers for their
children. If the initiative passes on June 2, it may face legal challenges.
That prospect should motivate the governor to sign SB 6 so that reform
will start sooner rather than later.
can work, as demonstrated in the Calexico School District along the Mexican
border. In those schools, predominantly Spanish-speaking and poor children
become proficient in English by the fourth grade, 90% finish high school
and half go on to college. There are fine results in many bilingual programs
on individual campuses. But success, unfortunately, is the exception rather
than the rule.
As Wilson has
indicated, the Alpert legislation does not go far enough. Tougher consequences,
including state intervention, are needed for districts that fail. And no
school district should be allowed to continue the bilingual status quo
without proof that it works.
should have reformed bilingual education years ago, but failed to act responsibly
until after the voter initiative had qualified for the ballot. Still, the
Alpert bill provides on all counts a better system than the state has now.
Wilson should sign it, no matter what he decides about Proposition 227.