San Francisco Schools Superintendent Ramon Cortines said last night that he will change the district’s practice of assigning large numbers of black, English-speaking students to bilingual classes.
Cortines said that when school begins in September, he will insist that it is made clear to parents of English-speaking students and limited- and non-English speaking students that they have the right to choose whether their children are placed in bilingual classes.
Responding to reports that black children are disproportionately assigned to bilingual classes to round out the ethnic mix, Cortines issued a memorandum to his staff that said he wants them to develop a new program next year.
”There are other ways to provide quality bilingual instruction to those children who need it, rather than at the expense of disadvantaged, English-only-speaking children,” Cortines wrote in a memo to Linda Davis, deputy superintendent for instruction.
About a third of each bilingual class is made up of native English speakers on the theory that they can help non-English speakers learn the language. Opponents of the approach fear that under-achieving English-speaking students were put in the bilingual classes, not as role models, but because they were considered potential hindrances in mainstream classes.
Black children are reportedly placed in bilingual classes at twice the rate of white children with about three-quarters of the black students in the program performing below their grade level. Black children comprise about 18 percent of students in the district, and whites 14 percent.
Cortines said last night that he only recently learned that some children were placed in the bilingual classes without their parents’ knowledge.
”Our statistic show that limited-English speaking students do very well when they transfer out of the bilingual classes, the program works for them,” he said. ”But I am concerned with students with other educational needs. A bilingual program is not designed for them. It is not educationally sound or beneficial.”