IN EDU-LAND, no good deed goes unpunished. If you are a superb educator,
educrats will pull out their long knives for you.

Witness Nancy Ichinaga. As principal of Inglewood Unified’s Bennett Kew Elementary School, Ichinaga took a failing school for mostly poor African American and Latino children and turned it into a place of learning.

Last year, her second-grade students hit the 69th percentile nationally in reading. Bennett Kew’s economically disadvantaged students scored above the national average in reading, math, language and spelling in all but one instance — fifth-graders scored 49 in reading. Poor third-graders scored in 83rd in math. (Statewide, the averages for poor students in those grades ranged from the 27th to 44th percentile.)

Gov. Gray Davis wisely tapped Ichinaga for the state school board before she retired as Bennett Kew’s principal last July. The state Senate Rules Committee votes on Ichinaga Wednesday. The Senate must confirm her by March 3 or she’s out.

With her outstanding record of achievement, Ichinaga should be a shoo-in.
But if the California Association for Bilingual Education has any impact on how the Senate votes, she’ll be history. “We believe Ms. Ichinaga is unable to objectively represent the interests of language minority students,”
Association President Anaida Colon-Muniz wrote to the Senate Rules Committee. Colon-Muniz explained Friday she believes Ichinaga will favor English immersion programs, and not be open to the alternative bilingual programs supported by her organization.

Colon-Muniz is right that Ichinaga is no big bilingual ed booster. Ichinaga has found that immersion programs work, and she has implemented immersion programs to good effect. But her charge that Ichinaga can’t represent
“language minority students” is outrageous.

First, Ichinaga entered public school speaking Japanese and some pidgin English. “My Hispanic children and their parents are very, very much like I was and my parents were,” Ichinaga told me. But apparently she doesn’t pass the association’s litmus test.

The group’s letter faulted Davis for not appointing individuals “who are very knowledgeable about the needs of language minority and immigrant students” — as if Ichinaga isn’t — and “Latino candidates who were clearly more qualified to sit on the board.”

Does that mean the bilingual education association represents Latinos, not all limited English students? No, Colon-Muniz said the association would support a “Euro” who pushes bilingual ed.

Then why complain that she is not a Latina?

In many categories, STAR scores for Bennett Kew’s limited English students are close to double the scores for limited English students statewide. So Ichinaga not only knows how to represent the interests of immigrant kids,
more important, she knows how to educate them.

The real objection isn’t that Ichinaga can’t relate to immigrants. It’s not that she doesn’t know how to teach limited English students. As California has seen over and over again, effectiveness is the not king in the educrat community. Acceptance of politically correct tenets is. One such tenet says that Proposition 227, the 1998 California initiative that mandates English immersion instead of years-long bilingual education for most limited English students, is bad.

Nancy Ichinaga is an apostate. She supported Proposition 227 — as did 61 percent of California voters. And for that, she must be punished.

In one sense, it’s understandable that the bilingual education association would oppose Ichinaga. Its priority, after all, is bilingual education, not education. But the state Senate should put the interests of California children first. Notes the Hoover Institution’s Bill Evers, who advises President Bush on education: “First, she is key to the success of the governor’s reform programs. Second, no one on the board brings the kind of first-hand experience with successful reform.”

Senate Rules Committee Chairman John Burton said he intends to vote in favor of Ichinaga “short of something happening.” And: “Everybody just says she’s a dynamite (expletive) principal.”

In 1996, Ichinaga testified before the Assembly Education Committee. She told members how she had adopted a phonics-intensive reading program that elevated second graders from the dregs of the testing world to above average. She thought that other distsrict schools would see her success and determine to match it. To her surprise, only one other school quickly adopted the phonics curriculum.

Ichinaga had believed that if educators did groundbreaking work, they would be regarded as leaders. May the state Senate prove her right.


E-mail Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com.



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