California: Proposal Revives Bilingual Education Debate

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Aug 14 13:17:55 UTC 2006,1,3733437.story?

Proposal Revives Bilingual Education Debate
A state Senate bill would add special reading and writing lessons for
English learners. Foes say measure would lead to unequal standards.

By Carla Rivera
Times Staff Writer

August 11, 2006

Several politicians and educators called on the governor Thursday to
support legislation that would allow school districts to include extra
reading and writing lessons for elementary students struggling to learn
English, in a debate that has rekindled California's dormant language
wars. The bill, SB 1769, sponsored by state Sen. Martha Escutia
(D-Whittier), additionally would restore about $1.6 million in funding for
the state Board of Education that was eliminated in the 2006-07 budget,
when a compromise could not be reached on textbook criteria. Supporters of
the bill argue that recently adopted standards for textbook materials do
not address the needs of California's 1.6 million English learners, who
trail their English-speaking counterparts on standardized test scores.

The new standards will govern textbook materials for elementary and middle
school students from 2008 through 2014. They call for a curriculum of
English and reading lessons geared to all students during the regular
class period, plus an additional hour of instruction targeted at English
learners. Supporters of the legislation want to include an option allowing
textbook publishers to submit materials designed to accelerate English
reading, writing and comprehension skills for English learners during the
regular class period, by incorporating more pictures and simple
vocabulary. Districts could choose to use the new materials, but they
would not be mandatory. The Assn. of California School Administrators and
more then 40 school districts have endorsed the legislation.

"Districts cannot continue to risk the development of literacy among
English learners because of a lack of appropriate materials," Rosa Molina,
associate superintendent of the San Jose Unified School District, said at
a Sacramento news conference. "We want to move past the rhetoric and
debate because we have the reality of children walking through our doors
in September." Escutia alluded to the politically charged nature of the
debate. "There are people who look at this and say, 'Oh there she goes
again with English learners, she must be pushing bilingual education,' but
nothing could be further from the truth," Escutia said. Assemblywoman Judy
Chu (D-Monterey Park), chairwoman of the Assembly's Appropriations
Committee, said that textbooks cost California $500 million, and she said
the state can't afford to spend resources on books that don't address
student achievement gaps.

The question of how best to teach English skills has devolved into a
debate over bilingual education, a contentious issue in California.
Opponents accuse the bill's supporters of fostering a bilingual approach
and say it would lead to separate classrooms and unequal standards for
English learners. Proposition 227, which passed in 1998, mandates that all
students learn to read and write in English. Ron Unz, who drafted that
measure, said he suspects that SB 1769 is a stealthy attempt to bypass
some of its provisions. "I'm awfully suspicious that this may, in fact,
represent an attempt to sneak bilingual education back into California
through the back door,"  said Unz, a Palo Alto software developer who is
chairman of the group English for the Children. "All of the leading people
pushing this effort were among the leading advocates of bilingualism."

It is a politically sensitive issue for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger,
himself an immigrant, who has spoken of his struggle to learn English. And
recently, former Govs. Pete Wilson and Gray Davis sent an open letter to
Schwarzenegger expressing their support for uniform standards and
defending the state board's English-language curriculum. The governor has
taken no formal position on the legislation but is concerned that it might
lead to isolating students based on their language ability, said
spokeswoman Margita Thompson. "He fears that using separate books and
curriculum for subjects that all students take will lead to segregating
and separating kids just because English is not their first language,"
Thompson said.

The governor is open to working with Latino legislators to explore other
options, including after-school programs or supplemental materials to
assist students, said Thompson. He has also included $20 million in this
year's budget for a pilot project to help identify the best teaching
practices for English learners. Schwarzenegger is also intent on restoring
funding to the state board and its nine staff members, whose salaries have
been picked up by the administration and the state Department of
Education. Roger Magyar, the board's executive director, said his office
is continuing to function but that the impasse threatens to hamper other
critical work such as overseeing the state's testing system and
implementation of the education code.

He said the board is not inclined to give in to the demands of SB 1769
supporters but is hoping for some sort of compromise. "Perhaps," Magyar
said, "we can give some instructions to publishers to help clarify issues
and bridge some of the gap.",1,3733437.story?


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