Lessons of a School Boycott

Latino Parents Finally Get District's Attention

The debate over bilingual education has ended on one campus with a promise that about 117 Spanish-speaking children will be taught in English starting in September. This result is a victory for the Latino parents who want their children to learn English now. To make their point, they pulled the children out of school for more than a week. Their boycott worked, but their children will win only if English instruction propels them to complete fluency and sustained academic achievement.

Most experts prescribe education in the child’s mother tongue during the first years of school. While the Los Angeles Unified School District is committed to providing bilingual education, state law gives parents the right to choose if their children will be taught in their first language or in English. That is what this fight was about.

The parents complained that teachers and educators discouraged them from putting their Spanish-speaking children in English-only classes. They charged that notification materials put high value on bilingual classes without adequately explaining the English-only option. As a result of their protest, the choice will be made clearer. However, educators would be derelict if they did not also explain that English-only classes are not the best choice for all children.

The Latino parents have a legitimate worry that their children will be trapped for years in classes taught in Spanish. Some children take six or seven years to test at grade-level in English, the requirement to exit bilingual classes. That’s much too long.

At Ninth Street School, educators have redesigned the bilingual program with the goal of transferring children in three years. That should be the goal for the entire district.

The boycott is over, the children back in school. The debate will continue over how best to teach the nearly 300,000 children attending Los Angeles public schools who do not speak English. But the most important accomplishment of the boycott is that parents demanded–and got–the school district bureaucracy to respond to their concerns

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