In deciding to recruit 13 additional Asian-language bilingual teachers this summer, the Torrance Unified School District used a formula set out in a California bilingual education law that expired in June, 1987.
The law required a district to hire a bilingual teacher at a school when there are 10 or more students in the same grade level who speak a common primary language other than English. Another bilingual teacher is to be hired when there are an additional 10 such students, and so on.
The Legislature and Gov. George Deukmejian have been unable to agree on new legislation. The state Department of Education allows districts to adhere to the expired law in order to comply with a less stringent federal bilingual education law that requires schools to give special assistance to students who are not fluent in English, according to Joe Symkowick, general counsel for the state Department of Education.
From March, 1988, to March, 1989, there was an increase of 148 limited English proficient (LEP) students in Torrance schools, 81 of whom speak an Asian language, said Gail Wickstrom, assistant superintendent for educational services.
That brought the total to 1,989 LEP students: 1,004 in elementary schools, 365 in middle schools, and 617 in the district’s four high schools.
Number is High
The number of bilingual teachers needed next year is disproportionately high because the increase in LEP students is expected to trigger the 10-students-per-teacher threshold in many schools.
“It’s not that we are going to have that many more Asian students,” Wickstrom said. “It’s just that they are going to trigger that limit.”
To determine if students belong in either of the special language programs, the district conducts proficiency testing for enrollees who speak a language other than English at home. The tests, which are regulated by the state, categorize a new student as “limited English proficient” or “fluent English proficient.”
LEP students are then assigned to a school. If that school has 10 or more LEP students in the same grade level who speak the same language, those students are assigned to a bilingual program. If not, the students are enrolled in an English as a second language program (ESL).
Because of the shortage of bilingual teachers throughout Southern California, Torrance has not always had sufficient bilingual certified teachers to staff every classroom, administrators said.
Take Ongoing Classes
ESL teachers are not required to have a special academic degree but must take classes in language comprehension, cultural understanding and teaching methods, school officials said.
ESL students are taught in English. They take two or three basic subjects — such as math and reading — in special ESL classes, in addition to regular classes with students proficient in English. For the most part, the bilingual classes last the entire school day and are conducted separately from classes taught in English.
Although educators throughout the country have long debated the effectiveness of ESL versus bilingual teaching techniques, Torrance administrators and teachers said they have no preference. “We don’t see it in a better or best criteria,” Wickstrom said.
Bilingual advocates describe this method as superior because students are not handicapped in studying basic subjects by their lack of English proficiency.
Supporters of ESL classes say that students learn English faster and make an easier transition to mainstream classes if they do not use their native language in schools.