by John Espinoza
October 17, 1998
Up until July of this year, I was proud of the stand the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) had taken in defending its Bilingual Master Plan for English Learners against the vicious attack of Proposition 227. Since the passage of 227 and the subsequent implementation plan issued by LAUSD, my feelings of pride have been replaced by those of frustration and shame. I am frustrated that so many thousands of LEP students will suffer educational setbacks. I feel shame for my district, which while forced implement 227, has not taken a proactive role in educating parents as to all the options under 227.
In July of this year, LAUSD unveiled its implementation plan that offered two options, Model A and Model B. In Model A students are immersed in English in all subjects and can receive a minimum of native-language clarification from bilingual teacher aides. In Model B students are immersed in English in all subjects and can receive a minimum of native-language clarification from a bilingual teacher.
Ron Unz and the English-only movement are at present making lots of noise as to how LAUSD is undermining "Structured English Immersion" with a covert attempt to continue bilingual education. Their most often stated complaint is that Model B allows for too much primary language support. LAUSD teachers who have years of experience teaching limited-English-proficient (LEP) students know that this critique of Model B by the English-only critics is in fact ludicrous. The truth is that 227 has effectively, for the vast majority of English-learning students in LAUSD, ended bilingual education as we know it. This regardless of which model it is, A or B.
Model A and Model B are essentially the same. Both are officially titled English immersion, and that's what they are. They are in essence equally harmful to English-learning students because they eliminate the development of literacy skills in the primary language. Enlightened educators of LEP students know that children only need to learn how to read and write once. In bilingual programs, reading and writing in English are just an extension of skills that have already been developed easily and efficiently in the first language. English-only advocates claim that this doesn't matter because after one year of structured English immersion LEP students will pick enough English to be able to function in regular English-speaking classes. Study after study has shown this to be false.
But the most disappointing thing about LAUSD's 227 implementation plan is not the development of Models A and B, which do as much as they can, given the restrictions of the law, to soften the oppressive nature of immersion. The most disappointing thing is that LAUSD requires its representatives to give parents detailed explanations only of Models A and B. Information about the benefits of the basic bilingual program, as defined in the LAUSD Master Plan for English Learners, is not being disseminated. To do this, officials claim, would be advocacy, and the district has directed all its administrators and teachers not to "advocate." Only in schools where administrators and teachers have mustered the courage to disseminate to parents this "outlawed" information about the basic bilingual program have a substantial number of waiver requests been received. But in the vast majority of schools, parents are not receiving complete information. These parents are being led to believe that Model B is their best option because it allows a larger amount of primary language support. Some are even led to believe that it is some form of a bilingual program.
Under Proposition 227, parents have the legal right to waiver out of English immersion. This was in fact a key selling point for the initiative. During the 227 campaign, Ron Unz repeatedly said that his measure was not intended to destroy bilingual education completely, only to give parents more choices. Regardless of election rhetoric, the right for an individual parent to waiver is written into the law.
Over the last 30 years, LAUSD developed an excellent program for English learners. LAUSD officials know that the best educational placement for English learners is in the basic bilingual program. Undeniably, LAUSD has the legal obligation to follow the law under 227. But it does not have the obligation to withhold information that would help parents understand all their options under the law.
It is especially important now that educators who support the of rights of non-English-speaking children not despair. As individuals who care, we need to take a more aggressive stance of informing parents of their rights and actively help them obtain these rights from the system.
Every teacher whose students are affected by Proposition 227 should conference, in groups or individually, with the parents of their LEP students and offer clear information as to all the options under the law, including information about benefits of the basic bilingual program. Parents have the right to waiver out of English immersion at any time during the school year. We should not buy into the district's cowardly view that separates advocacy from professional advice. There is nothing wrong in being an advocate for the rights of the English-learning student. Superintendent Zacarias did say one good thing in his August 11 memo to staff: "As professionals, it is not only our responsibility, but also our obligation, to assist the parent in making the most informed and appropriate decision for their child."
Nobody else is stepping forward to protect the rights of our LEP students. Proposition 227 will continue to wreck the educational opportunities for thousands of California's LEP students. Its time for teachers to step forward, and dare we say, "advocate" on behalf the rights of LEP students. It's time to tell the truth.
John Espinoza is a second-grade teacher at the Malabar Elementary School in East Los Angeles.