California's bilingual education ban not expected to spread to Nevada

Local school officials don’t expect the California backlash against bilingual education to spread to Nevada.

Because of the way programs are structured here, administrators for Clark County School District said the situation in California that prompted voters to approve Proposition 227 _ which basically bans bilingual education _ could never develop.

‘The way I understand the issue, people in California were upset because kids were put into bilingual education programs and never taken out,’ said Ray Medina, assistant director of the district’s English language learner programs. ‘That was their concern. We don’t do that here.’

Various California groups already are looking at possible legal challenges to the measure that garnered 62 percent of voter approval Tuesday. Proposition 227 will affect about 1.4 million students with limited English-language ability.

In Clark County, 25,000 of the district’s 191,000 students are not proficient in English. Of that group, 92 percent are Spanish speakers.

But unlike California, where bilingual education is offered kindergarten through 12th grades, Clark County only offers it elementary schools. In bilingual classrooms, courses are taught by Spanish speakers, who introduce English concepts in a series of steps.

Middle school and high school students are assisted by English as a Second Language programs, referred to as ESL. Their classes are taught in English, where teachers make use of visuals and other methods to communicate effectively.

‘Everyone calls it bilingual, but the child is actually monolingual when they come to us,’ Medina said. ‘The goal is to get them English proficient so they’ll be able to read and write and speak in English. We want them to be bilingual.’

Clark County has 21 elementary schools that offer bilingual programs and 121 schools that have ESL.

At Hewetson Elementary School, Principal Thomas Maveal oversees one of the larger bilingual programs in the district. About 570 students in kindergarten through third grades are in the bilingual program. The school serves a northeast Las Vegas neighborhood that Maveal said is about 75 percent Hispanic.

‘I think what happened in California was that so many people were on the right against bilingual education or to the left for total immersion, that there wasn’t a good alternative,’ said Maveal, who thought the issue became a political question instead of an educational debate. ‘The main thing should be getting kids who don’t speak English help.’

It takes about three to five years for a student with no English skills to become truly proficient, Maveal said. Hewetson’s limited English students are taught in Spanish with increasing emphasis on English concepts.

The transition to English classes is made in fourth-grade. The program works best when students are able to start and finish the program, but transiency makes that difficult, Maveal said.

‘Teaching in Spanish allows students to keep up with other students, so that when they make the transition to English after third-grade, they haven’t lost any education,’ Maveal said.

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