An initiative that would require English-only instruction in public schools drew scant support last week at a forum attended by a standing room only audience of local bilingual educators, parents and school officials.
Gloria Matta Tuchman, co-author of the initiative, was featured in the public forum sponsored Nov. 20 by the North Orange County League of Women Voters at the Backs Building in Placentia, as were opponents to the initative, Jackie Rojas, a kindergarten bilingual education teacher in Anaheim; and Stephen Krashen, a professor at the University of Southern California.
Ron Unz, the initiative’s co-author, was to be in attendance but cancelled at the last minute.
By requiring English-only instruction, the “English for Our Children” initiative would limit bilingual programs like the one used by the Placentia-Yorba Linda School District, with exceptions in limited circumstances by parental request.
The issue of the evening was the fastest and best possible way to teach English to children who don’t speak it, while maintaining the required level of education in other subject levels like math, science and social studies.
“If the children don’t understand the language I am teaching them in, they don’t understand what they are reading,” said Rojas, in support of bilingual education.
Tuchman argued that the initiative would not throw children who can’t speak English into classrooms, “to sink or swim,” but would aim to teach children English as quickly as possible. She said non-English speaking children in her Santa Ana classroom become fluent in English sometimes as quickly as one year.
The Placentia-Yorba Linda school district uses bilingual education programs in five elementary schools, Topaz, Tynes, Rio Vista, Ruby Drive and Morse Avenue; plus offers primary language support for the upper grades.
“The goal of the bilingual education program is to keep children learning at the same pace as you would expect all children, and, at the same time, learn English,” said Marianne Smith, the district’s second language program manager.
In the early grades, students are taught content classes, like math and science, primarily in Spanish. Then at each grade level more subjects are taught in English, with most students transitioning to the English program by the fourth grade, Smith said.
The time it takes students to transition is something Tuchman and other initiative supporters have taken issue with, saying students often become “stuck” and never transition out, leaving high school without full command of the English language.
“I am quite sure hardly any kids are in that situation in the school district,” said school board trustee Judy Minor, who attended the forum. She did say that the time it takes a student to transition often depends on their prior education level.
“People need to get educated on how children learn language,” said Minor. “People need to get educated about this initiative.
(The forum) was a beginning to that. “