Orange County Register

Friday, October 31, 1997

Bilingual Backers Go on Offensive in Orange
They are mounting a campaign to counter public support for an English-only initiative.

By JOHN GITTELSOHN, Orange County Register

ORANGE Bilingual advocates presented a parade of parents, teachers and professors Thursday to tout the advantages of native-language instruction, a method that would be banned under a proposed ballot initiative.

``We know bilingual education works,'' said Nydia Hernandez, a kindergarten teacher at Pio Pico Elementary School in Santa Ana, whose students study in Spanish. ``The goal of bilingual education is to teach English. I want children to be successful in my community.''

Polls have shown strong support for the fledgling ``English for the Children'' ballot initiative. And opponents are beginning to organize.

The California Association for Bilingual Education arranged Thursday's anti-initiative briefing, one of several held around the state. On Tuesday, the California Teachers Association, the state's largest teachers union, came out against the initiative.

The ballot initiative, co-sponsored by Silicon Valley businessman Ron Unz and Santa Ana teacher Gloria Matta Tuchman, needs 433,269 validated signatures to qualify for the June 1998 ballot. More than 600,000 signatures have been gathered.

Bilingual advocates said support for the initiative is based largely on misinformation.

``My frustration is trying to reconcile what we know from research with political decisions,'' said California State University, Long Beach, professor David Ramirez.

A recent University of California, Riverside, study found test scores of Spanish-speaking students in Santa Ana Unified plummeted the equivalent of two grade levels when the students were tested in English.

Ramirez said his study of 2,000 limited-English students in seven districts found that rushing children into English-only programs undermined their academic progress. He compared it to trying to bake a cake twice as fast by doubling the temperature in the oven.

``You get a cake burned on the outside and raw in the middle,'' he said.

Last year, parents of 1,787 Orange County students barely 1 percent of limited-English students chose to withdraw their children from bilingual programs. Bilingual advocates said that shows support for current programs.

But Matta Tuchman said schools intimidate parents into keeping their children in programs that don't work.

``This initiative will empower parents. Parents will have a choice,'' said Matta Tuchman, who teaches in English to Spanish- and Vietnamese-speaking kindergartners at Taft Elementary. ``Now, they don't.''

The biggest misconception is that most schools teach Spanish, not English, bilingual advocates said.

Last year, only 13 percent of Orange County's 134,000 limited- English students studied in their native language, according to the California Department of Education. Statewide, 30 percent of 1.4 million limited-English students received instruction in their native language.

More than 21,400 limited-English students in Orange County receive no special instruction.

Westminster, Magnolia, Savanna and Orange Unified received state waivers to teach all students in English. Elsewhere, districts use bilingual aides and special teaching techniques to help children learn English.

Santa Ana Unified teaches 9,500 of its 37,000 limited-English students in Spanish. Ana Maria Cachua said the district's program, which allows students to gradually transition to English, helped her five children become academic stars. Her two oldest children now attend the University of Southern California.

``I'm very proud of my children,'' Cachua, a native of Mexico, said in Spanish. ``They can communicate with whomever they want because they speak two languages. We support our children and we support this (bilingual education) program.''