San Diego Union-Tribune
Wednesday, April 29, 1998
A Reasonable Solution: Leave Bilingual Education to School
It's encouraging that the Assembly has approved, however belatedly,
a measure by Sen. Dede Alpert, D-Coronado, to give school districts greater
flexibility in running their bilingual education programs. If the Senate
concurs, as seems likely since it has passed a similar bill, the legislation
will be sent to Gov. Pete Wilson.
But whether Wilson signs the measure will be academic if California voters
approve a statewide ballot initiative that would essentially mandate how
all students of limited English proficiency (LEP) will be taught.
Proposition 227, sponsored by Silicon Valley businessman Ron Unz, is quite
inflexible in its requirement that nearly all LEP students be placed in
"sheltered English immersion" programs. The upshot of this rigid
requirement would be to prevent school districts with successful bilingual
programs from doing what's best for their students.
Alpert's bill is preferable to the Unz approach, because it would give
districts the latitude to do what works. That kind of flexibility is crucial
in helping California's 1.4 million LEP students make a smooth and timely
transition to English. But this more-reasoned strategy may be moot, considering
the political gamesmanship over bilingual education by lawmakers of both
parties, which has tied up the bill for the last three years.
Last year, for instance, Alpert's proposal appeared to be cleared for takeoff
when it sailed through the Senate, only to be jammed up in the Assembly
by the Latino caucus. Had the Legislature acted then or during the two
previous years, Unz might never have launched his bilingual initiative.
The Alpert bill would give school districts the freedom to experiment with
differing teaching strategies aimed at bringing LEP kids up to speed. But
it would hold districts strictly accountable for moving these students
into regular classes in a timely manner. Districts that failed to do so
would be required to revise their programs.
Under Alpert's proposal, dissatisfied parents would be permitted to withdraw
their children from bilingual education programs at any time. This approach
flows from the sensible premise that parents know what is best for their
children. The Unz measure, while giving parents limited discretion, would
essentially put Sacramento back in charge of language instruction. Like
most blunt instruments, this could prove cumbersome and costly.
According to the nonpartisan state Legislative Analyst, Proposition 227
could cause many schools to incur large expenses. That's because LEP students
who are unable to learn English in the prescribed 180-day school year would
require additional assistance, particularly if they did not keep pace with
The Alpert bill allows parents, along with school districts, to decide
what is the best way to give LEP students a chance to succeed in the classroom.
It deserves prompt passage and Gov. Wilson's signature.