As a newly elected school board member of the Anaheim Union High School District, I wanted to look into bilingual education to see what kind of result we were getting for our tax dollars. What I have found is a classic boondoggle of a government system that has run amuck.The bilingual education system in California is rewarded for failure. Every year more and more children are placed into the Limited English Proficiency programs (LEP) and are rarely seen again.
The objectives of LEP programs are to do the following: 1) Teach non-English speakers the English language and to redesignate them as Fluent English Proficient (FEP). 2) Provide sheltered and native language instruction in other curriculum areas (such as math and science) to help keep children at grade level. 3) Provide children with self-esteem and to promote multi-culturalism. Unfortunately, the teaching of English, has taken a very distant back seat to the emphasis in multi-culturalism and native language retention.
School districts are required to fill out a California Department of Education Form R30-LC each spring. Each school in the district must fill out the form for the children in LEP programs at that school. The form includes the native language of the child and how many of those children are LEP. On the back of the form is a box that asks for the number of children redesignated from Limited English Proficient to Fluent English Proficient. In the table below,
the results for each school district are listed for the last three years.
Column A is the total number of children designated as LEP. Column B is the total number of children redesignated as Fluent English Proficient that year and Column C is the relative percentage of those redesignated.
SPRING 1993 SPRING 1994 SPRING 1995
SCHOOL DISTRICT A B C A
B C A B C
Anaheim Elementary 8651 287 3.32% 9513 240 2.52% 10320 331
Anaheim Union High 8133 424 5.21% 7680 267 3.48% 7344 714 9.72%
Brea-Olinda Unified 471 44 9.34% 550 36 6.55% 479 49
Fullerton Elementary 2634 128 4.86% 2959 121 4.09% 3181 126 3.96%
Garden Grove Unified 16303 592 3.63% 17856 631 3.53% 18743 572 3.05%
La Habra City 1664 130 7.81% 1759 93 5.29% 1881 122 6.49%
Magnolia Elementary 1418 212 14.95% 1704 157 9.21% 2070 148 7.15%
Newport-Mesa Unified 4042 143 3.54% 4119 182 4.42% 4284 120 2.80%
Orange Unified 6089 294 4.83% 6229 316 5.07% 6596 413 6.26%
Placentia-Yorba Linda U. 3091 97 3.14% 3195 143 4.48% 3296 94 2.85%
Santa Ana Unified 32150 1099 3.42% 33541 980 2.92% 34307 1237 3.61%
Savanna Elementary 382 12 3.14% 496 15 3.20% 547 35 6.40%
TOTALS 85028 3462 4.07%
89574 3181 3.55% 93048 3961 4.26%
What I found was that over the last three years there was an average of 89,217 kids that were in some type of LEP program. Over those three years, an average of 3,535 students were moved into the Fluent English Program (FEP).
That is only 3.96 % of students that are being redesignated each year. In other words, 96.04% don’t get redesignated. For you sports fans, that means that bilingual education programs are batting an astounding .040. I would submit that children could do that well without going to school at all.
Thousands of new non-English speakers pour into the system each year and only a handful trickle out.
I had to ask, “What is going on here?” I came up with three possible answers,
two of which I discarded immediately and the third that made immeasurable sense. First I thought; these kids must have some kind of a learning disability. Well, I threw that out just about as fast as I had thought about it. These kids are not stupid, they are as bright and intelligent as anyone else, so there must be another reason that is causing this problem. Ah, the teachers are shirking their duties and are not teaching properly. That one went out the window pretty quickly too. I have great faith and trust in the vast majority of our teachers and such a general statement was unreasonable.
What else is there? There is an adage to any investigation and that is; FOLLOW THE MONEY.
Funding for bilingual programs is based on the number of children that are IN the program. The more kids in the program, the more money schools get to administer the program, provide training, hire additional personnel, etc.,
etc., etc. However, when they have done their job and have redesignated an LEP child to the FEP status, funding stops. Now, if there was ever a disincentive to make a system work, this is it. Funding is continued as long as you KEEP kids in the program. On the other hand, if you do your job well, not only are you not rewarded, but you also end up losing the funding. The bilingual education system is designed to reward failure and to punish achievement. It is no wonder that the system does not provide any meaningful results.
Ironically, I believe that the children that are getting most of the funding and programs are the ones that are being the MOST hurt by it. Because of their population size, Hispanic children make up the bulk of many LEP programs. As a result, they more often end up in native language instruction classes and have more bilingual aides in their classes. Ultimately, they have significantly less incentive to learn English than those who do not get the so called
“benefits” of these programs. The R30 reports are primarily responsible for this theory.
For example, in 1995, Paul Revere School in the Anaheim City School District had 759 Spanish speaking children in the LEP program. The bulk of these children (513) receive primary language support and the others received less primary language support. However, 41 students in the LEP program spoke either, Vietnamese, Khmer, Thai, Mandarin, Indonesian, Samoan, German, Punjabi,
or Tongan. None of these children got native language instruction and are basically immersed in English. Out of the 800 children in the LEP program,
only five (0.625%) were redesignated as being Fluent English Proficient.
This kind of lopsided situation is often repeated in the R30 reports reviewed.
The question that jumped to my mind was, “How many children of the non-Spanish speaking languages that were immersed in English were redesignated vs. those in the native language instruction programs or those that had significant assistance by classroom aides or bilingual teachers?” I tried to find out, but guess what – that is “confidential information” and cannot be released. Amazing! When we find out how many students were redesignated that had not been in a native language instruction course or had aides to help them,
I believe that we will find that bilingual education is even LESS proficient than the poor results currently indicate.
Be aware that “education experts” will have a litany of 101 excuses as to why we can’t get these kids to be proficient in English. Every excuse you hear about why bilingual education can’t produce results, is simply one more reason why bilingual education should be done away with completely.
The Governor and the California Legislature should immediately re-think the funding process for bilingual education. We need to reward programs that are successful by providing them with with funding. Programs that don’t work should not receive any funding. Immersion in English should immediately become the preferred method of teaching non-English speaking students. It certainly can’t be worse than what is going on now and it will save hundreds of millions of tax dollars that are clearly wasted on a failed system of education. The hundreds of millions of dollars that have been mis-directed to failing bilingual programs should be re-directed to rewarding those programs that prove they can get the job done.
UPDATE: 1996 LEP vs. FEP REDESIGNATIONS
Unfortunately it doesn’t look like 1996 is going to be a better year. The overall average for the listed school districts for this year is only a 4.02%