Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, June 9, 1998

High Road for Teachers Union

The head of the California Teachers Assn. could have ducked the controversy over Proposition 227, the successful ballot initiative that does away with most bilingual education in favor of one year of intensive English instruction. Ahead lay legal challenges in the courts and state Board of Education action on what the initiative would require in the classroom. CTA President Lois Tinson opposed the measure and could have given comfort to the teachers who have promised to defy the new law.
      Instead, Tinson took the high road and urged teachers to comply with the new state law for teaching children English.
      She also made it clear that the union will support any teachers sued by parents on the ground they refused to obey 227. That was the right decision. Teachers should follow the new regulations, but they shouldn't have to worry about lawyer-happy parents breathing down their necks.
      At this point, no one is certain what will be allowed or forbidden in the classroom when Proposition 227 takes effect with the start of school this fall, the courts permitting. Teaching children to read, write and think in a second language is difficult enough without the confusion of uncertainty in the classroom.
      Among the many questions to be answered: How much native language will be allowed under this "overwhelmingly English" approach? What is the relationship between the initiative's requirements and bilingual programs in some California cities, including Oakland, that are operating under federal consent decrees? How will children be grouped in the one-year English-immersion classes: by age, grade or language ability?
      The State Board of Education is expected to start work this week on the new regulations, and it needs to move aggressively to give teachers time to prepare for the changes.
      To ease the transition, the board should convene researchers and experts from Canada, Israel and other countries that use a second-language immersion policy. The goal should be to develop the best English-immersion program possible for California, onea that quickly prepares limited-English children to succeed academically in their new language.
      Implementation of Proposition 227 won't be painless, but on this controversy the CTA leadership is a voice of reason. Unless teachers cooperate, nothing will work.