Schools weigh bilingual education options

Santa Ana considers creating alternative schools to bypass the Prop. 227 waiver system

At least 12 Santa Ana schools might try to become
language-alternative schools, which would exempt them from
Proposition 227 and allow them to resume some form of bilingual
education.

“We had schools where about three-quarters of the parents opted
for waivers,” said John Palacio, Santa Ana school board president.

“This is significant enough to have a discussion on how to better
respond to the community’s needs. We have to provide choices that
meet the diversity in our district. ”

But proponents of Prop. 227 say any such action would defy the
will of the voters.

“In light of all the good reviews English-immersion has
received, it seems like a real step backwards,” said Rosemarie
Avila, a Santa Ana board member. “An alternative program is a way
to pull bilingual education out from under the ed code. They’re
just trying to find another way to get around things. ”

The school board will discuss tonight trying to create
alternative schools.

Santa Ana’s preliminary discussion about alternative schools
echoes what other school districts with high limited-English
populations have been discussing. Anaheim City School District
began considering the idea of creating a two-way immersion program
in early March.

The discussion also brings to mind events at Las Palmas
Elementary in San Clemente and Gates Elementary in Lake Forest just
after Prop. 227’s passage.

Parents at those two schools feared that their choice programs
would crumble after the law passed. They guarded their
dual-immersion programs from Prop. 227 by obtaining alternative-
and charter-school status. In dual immersion, English- and
Spanish-speaking children learn together until both groups are
biliterate and bilingual, by the sixth grade.

“We’ve been looking _ with great interest _ at how the two
schools in south county got approval for an alternative program,”
said Howard Bryan, director of bilingual education for Santa Ana
Unified. “If they can do it, there might be hope for us. ”
Since Prop. 227 passed in June, Santa Ana has received some
4,700 waiver requests from parents who wanted their children to
continue in bilingual education _ by far the largest number of any
district in the county. Pio Pico, Lincoln and Washington
elementaries are among 12 Santa Ana schools where 50 percent of the
parents of kindergarteners and first-graders of each school
requested waivers.

With Prop. 227, parents can opt for a waiver from the law’s
English mandate if their children meet certain criteria. Prop. 227
requires a child to complete 30 days in an English-immersion class
before parents request a waiver, but an alternative program could
allow parents to bypass the annual process of requesting waivers.

Palacio said bilingual alternative schools, if approved by state
schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin, would resemble the
district’s choice schools, or fundamental schools, in that parents,
teachers and administrators would have a heavy influence on school
curricula and policies.

Avila says schools thinking of applying for alternative
bilingual programs must first prove a strong track record. She says
guidelines should be made to revoke alternative status for schools
that don’t meet their goals after a set number of years.

Santa Ana’s preliminary talks could be for naught if the 12
candidate schools don’t meet certain state criteria for alternative
programs.

Schools applying for an alternative program must show:

Evidence of high academic standards.

Overwhelming support for the program by parents and teachers, with
all students and teachers entering the program on a voluntary basis.

Effectiveness in student achievement and growth in English.

Norm Gold, manager of language proficiency and accountability
for the California Department of Education, says bilingual schools
can use test scores and redesignation rates _ how many students
become fluent in English _ to prove a history of high performance.

“We want districts to show how successful they’ve been and be
able to back their claims,” Gold said. “They must show growth in
English. ”

But what is a successful program?

“Success is a relative term,” Gold said. “There are English-only
schools in Orange County that have less than three-quarters of
their students who are proficient in oral English that claim they
are a success. ”

Sometimes politics takes precedence, too.

In south county, parents and staff of dual-immersion programs
tried hard to set themselves apart from their bilingual
counterparts.

In Capistrano Unified, school officials and parents sacrificed
defending the district’s bilingual programs for the sake of
ensuring that Las Palmas could preserve its two-way program.

Only seven programs statewide have received alternative status
based on their language programs, and all of them are
dual-immersion programs. Ten other requests for
language-alternative schools _ including a couple that feature
transitional bilingual programs _ are pending.

“The (alternative schools) law has been around for more than 20
years. There wasn’t any particular reason for schools to develop an
alternative-language school until now,” said Lynn Hartzler, an
alternative-schools consultant for the California Department of
Education. “They are now seen as a legislative opportunity that has
become important for those who want to preserve bilingual
education. ”

Schools considering an alternative program understand they will
be under scrutiny. Prop. 227 proponents recently asked the state
Department of Education to give them information about all requests
for waivers from the English-only requirement.

“We have to make sure we are upholding the will of people,” said
Avila. “The voters decided in June what they wanted. I can’t
believe this debate is still going on. ”

But educators assert that they are within the laws both for
alternative schools and Prop. 227.

“We’re not at all worried that this goes against the intent of
Prop. 227,” said Sandy Barry, assistant superintendent of education
for Anaheim City School District. Anaheim has also bounced around
ideas to create a two-way immersion program. “Prop. 227 allows for
alternatives. “



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