Bilingual Classes Still Thriving in Wake of Prop. 227

In L.A. Unified, about 10% return to native-language instruction; figure is as high as 90% elsewhere. Measure allows parents that choice.

After a one-month stint in English-intensive classes required by a new state law, tens of thousands of California students with limited English skills are heading back into bilingual education this fall at the request of their parents.

Close to 12,000 of those students are in the Los Angeles Unified School District, data provided to The Times on Wednesday show.

Though sizable, that number pales next to the about 107,000 Los Angeles students who were in formal bilingual classes before voters last June approved Proposition 227. Many of the students who are enrolled in English “immersion” classes actually get substantial help in their native languages.

Districts in Oxnard, Pomona, San Jose and elsewhere report far heavier streams of limited-English students–up to 80% and 90% in some cases–flowing back into hastily formed bilingual classrooms. There, stories can once again be read as cuentos and mathematics and science taught as matematica y ciencia.

The initial data show Proposition 227 has hit bilingual education much like a tornado hopscotching through a subdivision, obliterating some programs and leaving others virtually untouched.

The number of students returning to bilingual education statewide–most of them Spanish-speaking–is large enough to belie the assumption of many voters and pundits that Proposition 227 would erase a method of teaching that for decades has attracted fierce critics and stubborn loyalists.

Supporters of the proposition had campaigned on the slogan “Let’s teach English to all of California’s children and end bilingual education by June 1998.”

School administrators, most of whom opposed the ballot measure, say the return to bilingual classrooms is entirely consistent with the new law. While the proposition requires schools to teach students in English, it also allows parents to pull children out of English immersion classrooms after 30 days under certain circumstances.

Complex Aftermath of Prop. 227

As often happens when the broad strokes of politics give way to the ambiguities of law and administration, the aftermath of Proposition 227 has proved complex. Bilingual education has certainly not ended in California, interviews and records show, nor will it any time soon.

“There is room in our schools for bilingual education programs and English language acquisition programs,” said Forrest Ross, a Los Angeles school official overseeing implementation of Proposition 227. “And we’re seeing this happen. They’re side by side in schools.”

Statewide, 1.4 million students in public schools are not fluent in English. Of those, about three in 10 were taught last school year in their native languages, often for as much as 70%, 80% or even 90% of the school day. Many had gone for years without becoming fluent in English. Those were the programs that Republican businessman Ron Unz targeted when he sponsored the first state voter initiative in the nation to curtail bilingual teaching.

Data provided to The Times by several key school districts show that Unz has accomplished his goal in many areas.

Given the choice between keeping children in the English-based classes in which they began the school year or seeking permission to put them back into bilingual education, many parents choose English. For many, it was simply a matter of not wanting to change teachers in midterm.

In Fresno and Santa Ana, bilingual programs have shrunk considerably. In Paramount Unified, Mountain View Elementary and Long Beach Unified–three Los Angeles County districts that had large bilingual programs–few parents have expressed interest in so-called “waivers” to keep their children in those programs.

Even in Los Angeles Unified, which Unz has criticized for allegedly failing to move vigorously to stamp out native language instruction, scores of schools report that few or no parents have filed petitions to put their children back into bilingual classes. District officials predict that the tally will grow in coming months, as the law takes hold.

“If we’ve reduced the number of students in bilingual education in Los Angeles by 90% in the first year, in the face of massive resistance, that’s a pretty good start,” Unz said.

However, Unz charged that tens of thousands more Los Angeles students are getting a watered-down form of bilingual education under the table. He complained that some classes created to comply with the initiative are English immersion in name only.

Major Support in Some Districts

The data released Wednesday show more than 96,000 limited-English students are now in a program that the Los Angeles district says gives students instruction “primarily” in English, along with “support” in their native language from bilingual teachers.

Bilingual education enjoys substantial backing in some areas outside Los Angeles.

In San Jose Unified and Alum Rock Union Elementary districts in Santa Clara County, the number of students returning to bilingual education this year will be more than half of last year’s total. In Oxnard and Hueneme elementary districts in Ventura County, officials report a return rate exceeding 80% and 90%, respectively. San Francisco schools report almost no students dropping out of bilingual classes.

“Our parents and our community have faith in our school district efforts and programs,” said Cassandra George, an assistant superintendent in Pomona Unified, where at least 3,500 students are projected to return to bilingual education, compared to 5,461 before the election.

The emerging data on parent response to Proposition 227 is significant because many parents now have a voice in the debate for the first time. The initiative was approved by 61% of a spring primary but I decided not to because I feel she should just learn English. I think she will be better off,” said Myra Camarillo, whose 6-year-old daughter, Bernice, is now in first grade after spending a year in a bilingual kindergarten. “It was a tough decision. I do want her to know Spanish. But at school she can learn English, at home Spanish.”

Sentiment was reversed at another campus barely a mile away.

Waiting at the counter in the front office at Eastman Avenue Elementary School recently, Rosa Valencia buttonholed a campus bilingual coordinator and asked, “Did I get it? Did I get the waiver?”

Valencia feared that she had not filled out the application correctly for her 7-year-old daughter, Karina. She smiled broadly when the coordinator told her that the request had been granted. In all, the school issued 883 waivers.

Later, with her second-grader at her side, Valencia, a native of Mexico, said: “I believe in the bilingual program–and all of my six children speak Spanish. We all support the first language in our home, as well as the second language spoken in our school community.”

Added Karina, “I like speaking two languages.”

* CROWDED SCHOOLS: L.A. school district officials concede they greatly underestimated this year’s enrollment. B1

* * *

Requests for Bilingual Classes
L.A. Unified: 107,226 students (11%) were in bilingual classes last year; 11,809 requested them this year.
* * *
Other Districts in Southern California

1997-98 Requests | bilingual students this fall
Compton Unified (L.A. Co.) 3,996 200
Pomona Unified (L.A. Co.) 5,461 3,500
Santa Ana Unified (Orange Co.) 11,029 2,037
Oxnard Elementary (Ventura Co.) 5,773 4,650

* * *
Bilingual Vote, Take 2
Parents in California are choosing this fall whether to put their children with limited English skills into English-intensive classes, required by Proposition 227, or to seek permission for them to continue in bilingual education. Here are the 20 districts with the most students in bilingual classes before the initiative passed in June, and the number of waiver applications each had received as of mid-October. Few applicants have been turned down. Some districts provided partial tallies or estimates.
School district: Los Angeles Unified
Students in bilingual classes: 107,226
Waiver requests: 11,809
* * *
School district: San Diego City Unified
Students in bilingual classes: 12,704
Waiver requests: NA
* * *
School district: Long Beach Unified (Los Angeles County)
Students in bilingual classes: 12,093
Waiver requests: No plans for waivers
* * *
School district: Santa Ana Unified (Orange County)
Students in bilingual classes: 11,029
Waiver requests: 2,037
* * *
School district: Montebello Unified (Los Angeles County)
Students in bilingual classes: 10,896
Waiver requests: NA
* * *
School district: *San Francisco Unified
Students in bilingual classes: 8,210
Waiver requests: Nearly all
* * *
School district: Oxnard Elementary (Ventura County)
Students in bilingual classes: 5,773
Waiver requests: 4,650
* * *
School district: Pajaro Valley Joint Unified (Santa Cruz County)
Students in bilingual classes: 5,471
Waiver requests: 3,049
* * *
School district: Pomona Unified (Los Angeles County)
Students in bilingual classes: 5,461
Waiver requests: 3,500
* * *
School district: Mountain View Elementary (Los Angeles County)
Students in bilingual classes: 5,330
Waiver requests: 400
* * *
School district: San Bernardino City Unified (San Bernardino County)
Students in bilingual classes: 4,888
Waiver requests: Many expected
* * *
School district: San Jose Unified (Santa Clara County)
Students in bilingual classes: 4,560
Waiver requests: 2,635
* * *
School district: Alum Rock Union Elementary (Santa Clara County)
Students in bilingual classes: 4,326
Waiver requests: 2,840
* * *
School district: Paramount Unified (Los Angeles County)
Students in bilingual classes: 4,283
Waiver requests: Few expected
* * *
School district: Fresno Unified (Fresno County)
Students in bilingual classes: 4,215
Waiver requests: 1,200
* * *
School district: Compton Unified (Los Angeles County)
Students in bilingual classes: 3,996
Waiver requests: 200
* * *
School district: Alisal Union Elementary (Monterey County)
Students in bilingual classes: 3,915
Waiver requests: Nearly all
* * *
School district: Vista Unified (San Diego County)
Students in bilingual classes: 3,582
Waiver requests: Half expected
* * *
School district: Hueneme Elementary (Ventura County)
Students in bilingual classes: 3,532
Waiver requests: Nearly all
* * *
School district: Coachella Valley Unified (Riverside County)
Students in bilingual classes: 3,529
Waiver requests: Many sought
* Note: San Francisco Unified contends that it is required to offer bilingual classes under a federal court order.

Bilingual Classes Still Thriving in Wake of Prop. 227

Comments are closed.