Alarmed by what has been called the Los Angeles Unified School District’s failure to educate many secondary school students who have English language deficiencies, the state’s acting schools chief is threatening to withhold nearly $60 million for bilingual education if dramatic improvements are not made by December. The same audit praised the district’s elementary program. John Campise, 54, is a third- and fourth-grade instructor at West Vernon Elementary, where he has taught for 16 years. Campise believes the bilingual education program is ineffective and needs to be modified. He was interviewed by Kirby Lee.
I teach one of only five English-only classes in our school, which contains grades kindergarten through sixth grade. There are none offered before the third grade. There are 33 Spanish-only classes and 13 modified classes, a combination of Spanish and English.
I knew only Russian when I started kindergarten in Connecticut, but I was forced to learn English. English is now my first and only language. I don’t know if I could have done it with bilingual education. I had to walk through neighborhoods with five different languages to get to school and you got hit unless you knew their language.
When you have kids who do not know English, mixing them with English-speaking students will teach them quicker than you are ever going to teach them.
If you have kids staying with kids who are only going to speak Spanish, you’re limiting their experiences and creating racial tension. I’m starting to see blacks and Hispanics starting to hassle each other. We never had that problem before.
When a Hispanic student and a parent arrive, they have the choice of going to an English-only classroom. But most of our parents are not aware they have the option.
When kids come into my classroom, I automatically have them sign the waiver to be taught in English. A few years ago, I took a whole Hispanic class and had parents sign the waiver.
Parents have thanked me. They have come to me and asked me to have students put into my class. Only one parent has refused to sign the waiver since bilingual education was instituted in the school five years ago. I had the student placed in another class.
I tried to learn Spanish for two years and I couldn’t because I was too ignorant to learn. Only English is spoken in my class and I generally work without an assistant. I use cross-peer tutoring for students who do not speak English and find the method to work. I’m not a great teacher, but 99.9% of my students are able to pass the English proficiency test by the end of the year.
The school has a total enrollment of more than 1,000 in kindergarten through sixth grade, but over the last three years we have only transitioned about 200 students into mainstream English-speaking classes. Compared to other schools, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s area superintendent bilingual coordinator says we’re doing fantastic?
I’m all for students coming into the United States after the third grade to be taught in their home language. To be that highly developed in their own language and placed into an English-only environment is totally frightening.
But why not submerge younger children in English instead of a foreign language? Research shows that kids are like sponges and can pick up anything they are extensively exposed to very quickly. We seem to deny them the right to be intelligent beings.
A good portion of the staff are emergency-credentialed personnel who do not have state teaching credentials. The only reason they are hired is because they speak Spanish. It’s ridiculous. If they are given extra money because they speak Spanish, I should be given a stipend because I speak correct English.
I have been privately asked to leave the school four times and been forced to go to arbitration because of my views. Last year, I filed a grievance against the principal because she berated me for my views on bilingual education in the main office. The school district staff relations office ordered her to write a formal apology, which she reluctantly did.
I am a strong defender of total submersion of foreign-language-speaking students in English as soon as possible. My obligation is to the students and their parents.