San Francisco Chronicle
Monday, March 30, 1998
MISGIVINGS ABOUT the length of time immigrant students were spending in bilingual education classes without learning English led the San Rafael school board to ban bilingual programs after the third grade.
Gallinas Elementary School principal Michael Booth knew such a policy was a big mistake. He knew that fourth- and fifth- grade students who arrived at his school with little or no English-speaking ability flourished in English language acquisition and academics in bilingual classes while native English speakers learned a second language and excelled academically.
Booth asked for a waiver. Let Gallinas continue with its bilingual program but hold the school accountable. If it could not come up with hard evidence that bilingual students performed as well or better than students in English- only classes, then scrap the program. But give it a chance.
A year after Booth requested that waiver, the bilingual students have proved their principal right. They recently met the testing conditions with regard to both knowl edge of English and academic accomplishment, and the English-speaking students also got high marks in Spanish.
Gallinas Elementary's experience points up the dangers of the ``one-size-fits-all''
approach of Proposition 227, the anti-bilingual initiative by Silicon Valley
businessman Ron Unz that is on the June ballot. It also emphasizes the
need for accountability. A superior legislative alternative to the initiative
comes up for a hearing in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.
The bill (SB
Alpert's bill also has the advantage, which the initiative lacks, of giving teachers and schools room to comply with the 1974 U.S. Supreme Court Lau vs. Nichols decision, which spawned bilingual education. The landmark ruling said that schools must take ``affirmative steps'' different from what is offered to English-speaking children if students who do not understand English are to receive a meaningful education.
Voters need to know that the choice is not between Proposition 227 and the status quo. The Alpert bill is a far better option.