In Santa Ana, bilingual schooling isn’t working. It isn’t teaching kids from non-English-speaking backgrounds to read and write in English.
Ask teachers in the district. Three years ago, a number of teachers _ including a number of Latinos _ signed a petition opposing bilingual schooling. The middle-school teachers who did so see kids arriving at their schools, fresh from the district’s elementary schools, who haven’t learned English. These kids are potentiallly handicapped for life.
Nothing of substance has changed in the intervening period, according to Gloria Matta Tuchman, the elementary-school teacher who circulated the petition. Ms. Matta Tuchman, who is herself a Latina, fluent in Spanish _ and who is a nationally recognized expert on bilingual schooling _ says the district’s bilingual programs continue to teach young kids Spanish, rather then immerse them in English.
The issue is particularly pointed now because the same complaint is voiced by some candidates for school board in the upcoming election. Helen Fabian, for instance, was brought to the United States as a child not knowing any English (she spoke Russian), but learned America’s tongue quickly, through immersion.
And candidate Debra O’Donnell teaches intensive English to non-English-speaking students at a private language school. Ms. O’Donnell says immersion will teach any child English in a brief period _ and the Santa Ana school administration is committing malpractice by not taking this approach.
One particularly disturbing point is worth noting. After the petition protesting the bilingual program was presented to the Santa Ana district authorities back in 1993, a number of teachers who had signed itreceived _ individually addressed _ what they considered an intimidating letter from one of the school-board members, Audrey Noji.
“In signing this petition, you appear to be opposing bilingual education,” the Noji letter read. “Since the Santa Ana Unified School District is deeply committed to bilingual education and to all efforts that ensure a timely and successful transition to English language fluency, I am concerned about your negative feelings toward bilingual education. I suggest that we meet as soon
as possible to discuss your concerns . “
“If for some reason you disagree with your name on the list, I suggest you contact [Matta Tuchman] at once to have it removed. ” The letter went on to mention the District’s Bilingual Education Task Force; Ms. Noji would explain it all in a meeting with each recipient.
A chilling letter for a teacher to receive from someone in authority. And for that reason, an ethically dubious thing for Ms. Noji to do.
The teachers who received it understandably didn’t feel comfortable about meeting with Ms. Noji one-on-one. Ms. Matta-Tuchman says teachers felt threatened and worried; there would be no public notice of what Ms. Noji might or might not say to them, or how she might or might not pressure them. Ms. Matta Tuchman says the teachers therefore insisted on a collective meeting with Ms. Noji, in which they could all express, in public view, their concerns.
That message was transmitted back to the district. And Ms. Noji didn’t take them up on it. No public meeting ever took place.
But Gloria Matta Tuchman says the bilingual program hasn’t changed in any fundamental way; Ms. Noji has shown no sincere support for switching to English immersion. So even if the protesting teachers got off the hook back in 1993, Santa Ana’s students are still on it today.