For Bilingual Education, "Local Control" Means "Status Quo"

For the past several years, unsuccessful legislative efforts have been made to pass the Alpert-Firestone bill. It would have provided California schools with a legal basis for current bilingual education programs and given local school districts considerable flexibility in choosing whether or not to use this approach to educate limited-English students. Finally, under pressure from the approaching vote on Proposition 227, the state Legislature revived the defeated bill and passed it on May 4, 1998, just 29 days before the election.

Although Alpert-Firestone had been regularly supported in editorial pages throughout the state as the “solution” to the bilingual education problem, it would merely ratify the unacceptable status quo, since nearly all the large school districts in California have already become deeply wedded to failed bilingual education programs. This is demonstrated by their reaction to the March 12, 1998 vote of the state Board of Education which gave them exactly the program flexibility contained in Alpert-Firestone.

Following the March 12th decision, nearly every large school district in California publicly reaffirmed its support for bilingual education, its satisfaction with current programs, and its disinterest in any policy changes. Thus, it has now become apparent to everyone that “local control” is merely a synonym for doing nothing.

  • “The initial impact of the decision may be relatively minor because most districts appear to favor bilingual education. Only five of the state’s 1,000 school districts had ever asked the board for a waiver, which had been required to teach solely in English. All five districts are in Southern California. (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/13/98).

  • “For large districts committed to traditional bilingual education, the board’s decision means little because the state board has effectively shifted control to them.” (San Francisco Examiner, 3/13/98).

  • “In Los Angeles Unified, nearly half of the 680,000 students are not fluent in English. Victoria Castro, a district trustee, said she was ‘very confident that here in Los Angeles we will maintain and continue to improve our education for primary-language students.'”(Los Angeles Times, 3/14/98).

  • “Rosalia Salinas, a director of curriculum and instruction with the county Office of Education, said she’s not sure what impact the state action will have on San Diego area schools, but it could be minimal. She said the state board vote appears simply to underscore the flexibility that local schools already have to shape bilingual programs. `That flexibility is in place right now,’ she said yesterday.”(San Diego Union-Tribune, 3/13/98).

  • “‘We have a very strong bilingual program, and we’re going to continue to offer it,” said Joe Tafoya, deputy superintendent of Santa Ana Unified, the largest district in Orange County, where 70% of the 54,000 students speak limited English (Los Angeles Times, 3/14/98).

  • “‘It is a very sad time for minority language speakers,’ said Rosita Apodaca, head of bilingual education in San Francisco. `Instruction in the primary language provides them access to the core curriculum.'”(San Francisco Chronicle, 3/13/98).

  • “In San Jose, `we do not plan to change our services to our students regardless of the state’s decision,” said Maureen Munroe, the district’s spokeswoman. `We intend to implement our transitional bilingual education program because it is the best instructional strategy to support our students academically while they learn English.'”(San Francisco Chronicle, 3/13/98).

  • “`To recommend to my school board that we do anything other than continue to implement our bilingual programs would be immoral and unethnical,’ said Santiago Wood, superintendent of Alum Rock Union Elementary in San Jose, where 67 percent of the 16,000 students lack English skills. In Ravenswood City Elementary in East Palo Alto, nearly 70 percent of the 4,700 students speak a language other than English. “I have no plans to change our method of bilingual instruction,” said Superintendent Charlie Mae Knight. (San Francisco Examiner, 5/10/98).

  • “The controversial ruling by the state Board of Education will have little effect on Oakland’s vast, embattled bilingual program, officials said Friday. In the 53,000-student Oakland district—the sixth largest in the state—some 17,000 children, or nearly one in three, are in the bilingual program.” (Alameda Times-Star, 3/14/98).

  • “The State Board of Education’s decision to end state-mandated bilingual education will have little effect on local students, Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Vera Vignes said FridayVignes said the decision would have little bearing on bilingual education in the Pasadena district, where 7,000 students are receiving help with English.” (Pasadena Star-News, 3/14/98).

  • “San Joaquin County educators say area school districts aren’t likely to cut bilingual programs as a result of a state Board of Education decision Thursday to rescind a policy requiring that students with limited English skills be taught in their native language.” (Stockton Record, 3/13/98).

  • “Local bilingual programs will continue.” (Porterville Recorder).

  • “Officials at five area school districts said Friday they will continue their bilingual education programs, despite a state Board of Education decision to end a policy requiring native-language instruction for students with limited English skills.” (San Gabriel Valley Tribune, 3/14/98).

  • “All they’ve done is put in place a formal policy that says a district has choice,” said Jeanne Herrick, director of bilingual education in the Alisal Union School District. “Our board has already adopted a commitment to bilingual education, and it won’t change.” (Monterey Herald, 4/9/98).

  • “In San Ysidro, less than a mile from the California-Mexico border, Willow Elementary School Principal Jose Torres said Friday the overwhelming majority of his students will most likely continue in bilingual classes, despite the Board of Education decision.” (Ventura County Star, 3/14/98).

  • “A state Board of Education ruling last Thursdayguarantees that St. Helena School district officials will be able to continue to shape and run their own bilingual ed program.” (St. Helena Star, 3/19/98).

  • “James Waters, superintendent of the El Rancho Unified School District, said the state board’s ruling will have little effect in his district. “As long as individual districts are allowed to provide a program that they think is best for kids I don’t have a problem with it,” he said. “Given the option, we will continue bilingual education.” Little Lake School District Superintendent Maria Ott and Los Nietos School District Superintendent Charles Menzies said their districts will continue to use bilingual programs as well.” (Whittier Daily News, 3/22/98).

  • “Thursday’s unanimous vote by the state Board of Education permitting districts to teach non-English-speaking students as they see fit virtually does not affect Glendale, Alice Petrossian, assistant superintendent of educational services, said Friday.” (Glendale News-Press, 3/14/98).

  • “Coachella Valley Unified School District Superintendent Colleen Gaynes said she couldn’t comment on what the state board’s ruling will mean other than to say, “We have a commitment to teach children in the language they understand best.” (Desert Sun, 3/13/98).

  • “Last week’s state board of education decision lifting requirements on bilingual education probably won’t bring about immediate changes in the Western Placer Unified School District.” (Lincoln News Messenger, 3/26/98).

  • “If the board is allowed to write its own policy, chances are there would be little immediate change.” (Yucaipa News-Mirror, 3/19/98).

  • “All seven [board members] had indicated support for bilingual education.” (Visalia Times-Delta, 3/25/98).

  • “North County educators applauded Thursday’s state Board of Education decisionbut none said they were willing to carry the decision to its extreme and abolish traditional bilingual education programs.” (North County Times, 3/13/98).

  • “Tracy-area schools are standing behind their bilingual-education programs despite Thursday’s ruling by the state Board of Education allowing districts to cut themFranco said the district’s schools will continue to operate bilingual-education programs because they work.” (Tracy Press, 3/16/98).

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