One of every six Orange County students who speak limited English may not be receiving the bilingual education they are guaranteed under state guidelines and federal law, an Orange County Register survey has found.
While critics argue over how best to teach such children, schools are having a hard time providing even the most basic assistance to at least 20,000 kids _ from employing properly certified teachers to providing individual programs to develop English language skills.
The Register analysis used data provided by local schools. The reports, turned in to the county each year by elementary, middle and high schools, contain detailed information about the primary languages spoken by students, their English proficiency, and whether they are enrolled in instructional programs _ either in English or part time in their native languages _ that follow state guidelines designed to guarantee them the chance at an equal education.
A computer analysis of the 27 districts in Orange County shows: In five districts _ including Santa Ana Unified, Irvine Unified and Fullerton Joint Union _ schools reported more than one in three students speaking limited English are either not in a special program or are being taught by teachers who are not qualified as bilingual teachers.
In 11 districts, less than 6 percent of students speaking little English learned enough to move on to mainstream classes the next year.
Orange County districts appear to do better than the average school district in the state, which last year failed to provide a state-approved program for 23 percent of such students. But the local problem may be worse than the numbers show because state compliance officials are skeptical of some Orange County districts that appear to be understating the number of students who fail to get help.
Estella Acosta, who coordinates the county’s bilingual programs, said the numbers have long concerned her.
“We’re not servicing the needs of the kids,” she said. “And if it weren’t for the (Office for Civil Rights) those numbers would be much higher. ”
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, is conducting investigations in 25 California school districts to find out if they are following federal law that requires all children to receive equal access to education. Officials say Orange County is not believed to be among them.
The office uses the local language-census reports as a starting point for an investigation. The federal government then works with districts to help them comply; serious violations can result in federal funds being withheld.
“It’s never happened in California,” said Charles Love, who manages the OCR agency responsible for monitoring education programs in California.
The state also conducts its own compliance reviews, but rarely levies severe penalties. Officials say they acknowledge it can be difficult to meet all the requirements and prefer to work with districts individually.
“Twenty-five percent of the country’s (limited English proficiency) students are in California,” Love said. “That puts a tremendous strain on the state and everyone is working to respond in a way that doesn’t discard or ignore the needs of the students. ”
Even the harshest critics of bilingual education agree that students who enter schools speaking other languages need special classes to bring them quickly up to speed in English.
Harald Martin, an Anaheim Union school board member who has advocated doing away with native-language instruction, paused when hearing some students might not be getting any special instruction to help them get started in school.
“If they’re not in any kind of program at all, that’s wrong,” he said. “You can’t just put them nowhere. ” Orange County’s school districts this year reported 127,054 students who need special help with English to understand the coursework. Growing enrollments helped push that number up 6.1 percent, from 119,757 last year.
The students, located in every school district, speak at least 55 different languages. Spanish is by far the most common. But schools must also find ways to teach speakers of French, German, Farsi, Gujarati and, in Newport Beach, a small pocket of students from the Marshall Islands who speak only Marshallese.
The major obstacle to ensuring all get an equal education may be the lack of qualified bilingual teachers _ either certified by the state or in an approved training program.
To meet federal requirements, California suggests districts employ about one bilingual-certified teacher for every 30 non-English-speaking students. That has become a difficult goal in California, which is short roughly 20,000 properly certified teachers. Orange County last year had an estimated 1,700 certified teachers; 1,400 more are needed, according to rough estimates based on the number of limited English proficiency, or LEP students.
In the Huntington Beach Union High School district, 59 percent of the students who speak little English are either not in a special language program or are not being taught by teachers certified to instruct speakers of other languages. There are only 16 certified bilingual teachers _ plus another four in training _ for its 2,170 students who speak little English. Less than 2 percent of those students learned enough English to join mainstream classes.
Jan Mangels, who coordinates the district’s programs for LEP students, said the vast majority are receiving some sort of help, just not necessarily from specially certified bilingual teachers.
Part of the problem, she said, is that the district’s falling enrollment has left it with little money to hire the proper number of teachers.
“It’s something we’re paying a lot of attention to,” said Mangels. “No one is sweeping it under the rug and saying it’s not important. ”
Most districts and schools contacted for this story said their LEP students were in special programs. What they might be missing is specially certified teachers.
“Maybe they’re in a school where the person giving that service is not designated as a bilingual teacher. We have an enormous district and our kids are stretched all over,” said Pam de Loetz, who coordinates the programs in Orange Unified, where 21 percent of the LEP students were not in classes led by specially certified teachers. Promising that students are in a special program even though they’re not being taught by a specially certified bilingual teacher or someone training to become one is not good enough, said Norm Gold, manager for bilingual compliance with the California Department of Education.
“We want teachers to know biology before they teach biology, calculus before they teach calculus,” he said. “We expect people to have the expertise to do these jobs. It’s a complex area. It is just not the case that anyone without special training can do the job. ”
Experts say students who can’t understand what is being taught, and who get no help, are more at risk of leaving school.
“We can only continue to build more prisons up to a point. We can only continue to undereducate to a point until a sense of hopelessness breaks and we see civil unrest,” said Juan Francisco Lara, director of the Center for Educational Partnership at the University of California, Irvine.
“This is so sad for me to hear,” said Sylvia Mendez of Fullerton, who 50 years ago was involved in the landmark case Mendez vs. Westminster, which laid the groundwork for the Supreme Court’s ruling against discrimination in Brown vs. Board of Education.
“All I hear is complaints about bilingual education, how all the money is going to it. You never hear this side, that so many kids are not getting what they’re supposed to. ”
CHART: BILINGUAL EDUCATION
The state approves four basic methods of teaching English and core subjects to speakers of other languages. Students are classified depending on their levels of proficiency. Here are the four programs: English Language Development _ minimum program for all students, designed to promote proficiency in English. Instruction is in English.
ELD with Specially Designed Academic Instruction _ Students receive ELD and at least two subjects taught through specially designed instruction. Instruction is in English.
ELD, SDAIE with Primary Language Support _ Students also receive help _ but not formal classes _ in their native language in at least two academic subjects; can be provided by credentialed teachers fluent in the student’s language or by bilingual aides supervised by a credentialed teacher.
ELD and Primary Langauge Instruction _ This is the method most people think of as bilingual education, but it’s the least common way to teach. Students receive an ELD program and at least two academic subjects in their native language. For students in kindergarten through sixth grade, PLI is provided in reading, writing, mathematics, science or social science. For grades 7-12, it is provided in at least two academic subjects.
Students who fall outside the four categories are entered in a fifth category for students not receiving any services from certified bilingual teachers. Some fall into the fifth category after parents withdraw them from bilingual programs.
Source: state Department of Education CHART/LIST: WHAT’S SPOKEN HERE At least 55 languages are spoken in Orange County public schools.
The numbers below are for the 1995-96 school year. Percent change is a comparison with the previous year.
Language Students % chg.
Amer. Indian 1 _80.0 Arabic 535 +6.4 Armenian 101 _11.4 Assyrian 25 _21.9 Burmese 6 _33.3 Cantonese 316 _11.5 Cebuano 17 +21.4 Chaldean 4 +300.0 Chamorro 5 +66.7 Chaozhou 11 +83.3 Croatian 4 _69.2 Dutch 6 +50.0 Farsi 715 _1.7 French 54 +5.9 German 64 _8.6 Greek 21 +16.7 Gujarati 260 0.0 Hebrew 27 _34.1 Hindi 125 _6.0 Hmong 276 +9.5 Hungarian 12 _45.5 Ilocano 26 +44.4 Indonesian 83 +22.1 Italian 21 +23.5 Japanese 779 _0.6 Khmer 937 +5.0 Korean 2,957 +3.9 Lao 814 +104.0 Mandarin 692 _3.5
(Other Chinese) 722 _1.5 Marshallese 83 +27.7 Pashto 101 +3.1 Tagalog 922 _1.0
(Other Filipino) 56 _13.8 Polish 69 _5.5 Portuguese 63 _17.1 Punjabi 77 _6.1 Romanian 464 _3.1 Russian 144 +16.1 Samoan 222 _0.9 Serbian 6 _50.0 Serbo-Croatian 7 +75.0 Spanish 99,761 +7.3 Taiwanese 100 _32.4 Thai 136 +7.9 Tongan 83 +10.7 Turkish 28 +7.7 Ukrainian 4 +33.3 Urdu 184 +26.0 Vietnamese 14,059 +0.2
868 _6.2 Sources: Orange County school districts Register news assistants Tenny Tatusian and Melodie Nyman Posada contributed to this report.