San Jose Mercury News

Tuesday, August 4, 1998

Bilingual Teachers Still in Demand Despite Prop. 227
By LORI ARATANI, Mercury News Staff Writer

The end of statewide bilingual education hasn't diminished the demand for trained bilingual teachers in California schools.

In local schools ranging from San Jose to San Mateo, district officials say language skills are still viewed as a plus for a teacher just entering the job market.

Despite the June passage of Proposition 227 -- the initiative banning most bilingual education programs -- many school officials say there will always be a need for teachers fluent in more than one language.

District officials say that a teacher might not use that second language in the classroom, but it's likely to prove beneficial in other ways.

``If a teacher speaks the language that a parent does, we see that as a bonus,'' said David Downing, assistant superintendent for human resources in the Alum Rock Union School District. If parents can't speak English, but a teacher can speak Spanish, there's an instant link, he added. The district values bilingual teachers so much it pays a one-time $1,000 hiring bonus to qualified candidates. Downing said there are also benefits in a teaching force that reflects the district's diversity.

In Milpitas, Pat Dell, director of human resources, said the district has hired several bilingual teachers to teach in mainstream classes.

``If I have two equally qualified candidates and one has that bilingual certification, I'm most definitely going to hire that one with bilingual credential,'' she said. ``It really gives a candidate a leg up.''

Even with the passage of Proposition 227, it's not certain that all bilingual programs will disappear. Many districts are looking at opening charter campuses, which aren't subject to the provisions of the initiative, and could offer bilingual programs to those parents who choose them. Still others are exploring ways to open alternative campuses. Even within the initiative, there is room for maneuvering: Parents can seek waivers if they prefer their children be taught in their native language.

But on several California State University campuses, Proposition 227 has had a chilling effect.

Alexander Sapiens, a professor of education at San Jose State University, who helps coordinate the bilingual teacher training program, said some teacher candidates were reluctant to pursue bilingual credentials, partly out of fear they could be sued if they used their language skills in the classroom. Still others wondered if their skills would be valued in a post-Proposition 227 world.

``We had to convince a lot of students to stick with it,'' he said. ``Really, when you think of it, bilingual teachers are the ones that have to be out there on the firing line. They risk being sued.''

As long as districts want bilingual teachers, universities say they will continue to train them.

``At this point, it's too early to tell,'' said Ken Swisher, spokesman for the California State University system, which trains about 59 percent of the teachers in the state. ``It will be a campus-based decision -- the amount of money that goes in will depend on the amount of interest in the program.''

Both San Jose State and Cal State-Hayward say they will continue to offer programs to train bilingual teachers.