Wichita Eagle

Thursday, June 4, 1998

California Bilingual Ban Reverberates in Kansas
The California vote to dump bilingual education has some legislators considering changes in Kansas schools.
By ART GARCIA, The Wichita Eagle

A day after California voters decided to abolish bilingual education in public schools, some Kansas state legislators said programs here should be re-evaluated to determine their effectiveness.

Sen. Tim Huelscamp, R-Fowler, said Tuesday he has received complaints from constituents about bilingual education. And he said he wasn't surprised that California's Proposition 227 passed by a 61- to 39-percent margin in a state with a large Hispanic population.

"Given California's 30-year experience with it, they were pretty well dissatisfied with the results of bilingual education," Huelscamp said.

But educators here tell a different story.

"The response for what we call the dual-English program has been very positive," said Jackie Lugrand, who supervises parent-teacher resources for the Wichita School District. "Parents have wanted to continue the program."

Spurred by the California campaign, educators involved in bilingual education here have mounted a letter-writing campaign to ask the Kansas Legislature to preserve funding for the program.

Huelscamp was one of several legislators who said Wednesday that they expect the issue of bilingual education to arise in Kansas over the next couple of years.

"It won't be an initiative or referendum because Kansas doesn't have that, but I can see the state Legislature in future years addressing it," said Sen. Stan Clark, R-Oakley.

And Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Barbara Lawrence, R-Wichita, said: "I think it's our responsibility to take a look at bilingual education. Is it working?"

However, Lugrand and other educators point out that there are significant differences between California and Kansas in the way bilingual education is taught and the number of students involved.

In Wichita, only Irving and Park elementaries, within the Horace Mann complex, offer a dual-English program, which is in its third year.

The program teaches a student basic English skills early, along with their being instructed in Spanish in other subjects, then moves them into more advanced English classes.

In California's bilingual education system, most students were taught in Spanish early on and gradually introduced to English instruction.

At a school such as Caldwell Elementary, where the 160 students speak 14 different languages, there are too many languages to emphasize one, Lugrand said.

But at schools such as Irving or Cloud Elementary, where there's a heavy Hispanic student population, bilingual education is more feasible.

Children from around the district are usually bused to schools that have ESOL -- English for Speakers of Other Languages -- programs.

Most of those programs are English-based, Lugrand said.

She said only about 3,000 of the district's 47,000 students are on the dual-English program.

Even though those students are taught in Spanish, she said, the ultimate goal is for them to become fluent in English.

California's new law mandates that with few exceptions, all students be taught English in English. It allows for a one-year "immersion" program of intense instruction in English.

The new law will also allocate $50 million a year for 10 years to pay for English tutoring.

Supporters say immersion is the best way to bring students up to speed in English. Sen. Lawrence said she has seen immersion first-hand, while teaching in American schools in Germany in the late 1950s.

"Those children picked up German without any effort," Lawrence said. "Much better than the adults."

But a George Mason University study says such proficiency is limited.

While oral comprehension is high for students through the second grade, the study showed academic performance starts to drop off by the fourth grade, when reading and written comprehension become more important.

The same study also reported a steady increase in performance for children who were kept in bilingual programs, eventually surpassing the average performance of native-English speakers.

Proponents of bilingual education argue that it takes seven years for a student to become fluent in English.

"So many times, when you evaluate what has occurred, if you do it over a one-year, two-year, three-year period of time, you haven't really seen the full effect of what that instructional model provides," Lugrand said.

Opponents say, however, that bilingual education creates second-class citizens by isolating students based on their language.

"That is what I want to see eliminated in whatever way we can," Lawrence said. "We want these children to be productive and achieve what they can achieve and not hold them back."