Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, May 6, 1998

Prop. 227 Critics Cite School Data to Make Case
By JEAN MERL, Times Staff Writer

Leaders of the uphill campaign against a state ballot measure to end bilingual education seized on new public school data Tuesday to bolster their arguments that the measure would hurt, not help, immigrant children in learning English.
     Citizens for an Educated America cited state-compiled information from the Ninth Street School near downtown as the group sought to muster opposition to Proposition 227 on the June 2 ballot. The campaign also took a swipe at a high-profile supporter of the measure, Orange County first-grade teacher Gloria Matta Tuchman.
     Both Matta Tuchman and the Ninth Street School have provided powerful symbols for the ballot initiative written by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz.
     The measure would abolish most programs in which children are taught academic subjects in their native tongues for up to several years until they master English well enough to hold their own in mainstream classrooms. It calls instead for students to spend one school year in intensive English instruction, known as immersion, then be transferred into a regular classroom.
     Matta Tuchman, who signed on to the pro-227 campaign as co-sponsor, has been using immersion techniques with her students in the Santa Ana Unified District for years and touting their success as a reason to vote for the initiative.
     Ninth Street School has been praised by Unz as the inspiration for his initiative. Many of its Spanish-speaking parents transferred their children from bilingual classrooms to ones in which only English is spoken after a 1996 boycott led by Episcopal priest and community activist Alice Callaghan.
     At a news conference Tuesday, opponents of Proposition 227 pointed to state data showing that none of Matta Tuchman's students had become sufficiently proficient in English during the past academic year to enable them to be moved into regular classes.
     And the group noted that at the school, only two of the 74 students whose parents opted for English-only classes were deemed English-proficient by the end of the past academic year.
     "One year is not sufficient," said Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, an English-as-a-second language consultant for the Los Angeles County Office of Education.
     The data came from information each school district is required to provide annually to the state Department of Education. It includes the percentage of students with limited English skills at each school who, through testing, were reclassified as English-proficient and were eligible to leave bilingual classes for English-only instruction.
     The pro-227 campaign, English for the Children, did not dispute the data but did take issue with its significance.
     Spokeswoman Sheri Annis said the system for redesignating children is flawed. "Gloria's kids can speak and read and write in English," Annis said.
     "That was a real cheap shot," said Callaghan of the No on 227 campaign's efforts to make hay out of Ninth Street's redesignation track record with its English-only students.
     "Granted, language acquisition takes about three years," Callaghan said, but added that the one year of intensive language instruction called for in the ballot measure "is enough to give them the tools to go on from there" and do well academically.
     Callaghan said she believes the Ninth Street kindergartners and first-graders whose parents pulled them from bilingual classes ultimately will do better than their older counterparts who were taught in Spanish during their early school years.