Despite the success of Santa Ana Unified School District’s bilingual
education, programs designed to teach English as a second language could be improved by raising teachers’ expectations of student performance, according to a report by a district task force.

The Board of Trustees voted 4 to 1 this week to accept the report, which was created after a year of study by the 30-member task force that included teachers, principals and parents.

Board members Richard C. Hernandez, Audrey Yamagata-Noji, Sal Mendoza and Robert W. Balen voted to accept the document. Trustee Rosemarie Avila voted to reject it.

The district’s current programs include instruction primarily in students’ native languages with daily lessons in English and instruction in English with additional explanations in the students’ first language.

Avila said she believes that the task force’s focus was too limited from the outset and failed to consider a radical overhaul of the system, one that is based on “immersion” instruction, which is done almost exclusively in English.

Anaida Colon-Muniz, director of English bilingual education, said that although the task force focused on ways to improve the current programs, it did consider suggestions for an approach based on immersion, such as those Avila favors.

However, she added, “one program alone doesn’t meet the needs of our students, and that’s why we have the variety of options.”

About 20 people, including parents and teachers, asked the school board to maintain the current bilingual programs.

Several students who have recently been accepted to state colleges and universities credited the district’s bilingual education programs for their successes.

The task force recommendations include raising teacher expectations of students’ performance, encouraging teachers to become proficient in Spanish and promoting communication between parents and school officials.

It also calls for better methods of placing students in the appropriate language development programs and measuring their progress, as well as ensuring that students receive a minimum of 20 minutes of English instruction daily.

Avila opposed the recommendations, saying: “I feel these recommendations don’t represent change for our district. It represents the status quo. I’m disappointed. Frankly, I’m disappointed that the board is not willing to look into this topic on a broader basis.

“I’m sad that our children are going to be in a system that discourages them. I can’t in good conscience accept these recommendations.”

Hernandez said that the report was hardly a call to maintain the “status quo” but rather a “dramatic document that demands change.”

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