L.A. Schools Shift 26,000 Out of Bilingual Classes

Education: District Officials Herald Increased Transfers to Regular Lessons. But Campus Rates Vary

Continuing an upward trend, the Los Angeles Unified School District reported Monday that it transferred nearly 26,000 bilingual program students into regular classes last year, up from 24,000 the year before.

The rate of bilingual students who demonstrated English competency through a test and other measures also increased in the two years–from 8.4% in 1994-95 to 8.7% last school year.

Boosting the so-called redesignation rate became a focus of the district in recent years amid growing public skepticism about the length of time that students spend in bilingual education.

“To that world out there that says nothing’s happening with these students, I say hogwash–a lot is happening,” said Supt. Sid Thompson.

Board member Vicki Castro, a strong advocate of bilingual education, said the improvements in the state’s largest school district–where a majority of students begin school speaking little or no English–should help quiet critics.

Rates varied greatly from campus to campus, however.

The 15 schools commended at Monday’s board meeting for having the highest redesignation rates or the most improvement in the two years all exceeded the district’s average. Calabash Elementary in the west San Fernando Valley, for instance, redesignated more than a third of its bilingual program students.

But many of the schools housing the largest numbers of bilingual program students, generally located in poorer neighborhoods, logged the lowest redesignation numbers. Ninth Street Elementary in downtown’s garment district, where Latino parents boycotted the school in February to protest bilingual classes, redesignated only 3.3% of its students, though that was double the rate a year earlier.

Districtwide, about two-thirds of the schools did not meet their redesignation goals.

Bilingual education has come under increased scrutiny as a result, in part, of rising anti-immigrant sentiments. But some of the questions posed have eclipsed simple ethnic politics–particularly those concerning the five to seven years that Los Angeles students spend in classes taught at least partially in Spanish or another foreign language.

In October 1995, Thompson included improving redesignation rates among his primary goals for the district.

Then, in May, as part of the district’s overhaul of its bilingual education plan, administrators recommended offering financial bonuses to schools that promote students into regular programs. Assistant Supt. Carmen Schroeder, who heads the bilingual division, said those bonuses will be offered for the first time next fall

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