Honig Says Debate is Over and Bilingual Education Here to Stay

Curricula: Schools superintendent says individual districts should be left free to develop their own programs

ANAHEIM—The debate over whether bilingual education is necessary is essentially dead and educators should now focus their efforts on how to implement new bilingual curricula, state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig said Friday.

In a speech at the annual conference of the California Assn. for Bilingual Education, Honig said that “political” arguments against bilingual studies have failed in the eyes of educators and that the state Department of Education will “very forcefully” support initiatives to restructure bilingual education.

“There are going to be bilingual education programs in our schools,” Honig declared.

But while Honig said he supports bilingual education, he also said that state officials and bilingual education advocates are still faced with “differences on particular techniques” of instructing students whose proficiency in English is limited.

Honig suggested that the best approach to implementing bilingual programs is to allow individual districts to have a free rein in developing curricula.

“What we’re saying is, ‘You show us these kids are making better-than-average progress, we don’t care what you do,’ ” Honig said after his luncheon speech at the Anaheim Hilton and Towers. “If you can show that kids (are performing well), we’re not going to go into the details of how you got there.”

Estella Acosta, a bilingual education specialist for the Orange County Department of Education, said an autonomous approach at the district level is preferable because “every district has a different makeup.”

In the Anaheim City School District, for example, officials would be inclined to develop a bilingual program with heavy emphasis on Spanish because of its large Latino population, while officials in the Irvine Unified School District would tailor its program more toward its high percentage of Japanese students, Acosta said.

She added that district officials are better able to assess students’ language skills and can devise programs and hire bilingual teachers accordingly.

“In Orange County, we have 77,000 (limited-English) students, but not all of them need instruction in their primary language because some have more fluency” in English, Acosta said.

In his speech, Honig said he convened a task force on limited-English issues about a year and a half ago, which concluded that “the No. 1 priority is to certify and develop and assure that we have enough qualified (bilingual) staff.”

A position paper prepared for the conference noted that California’s population of students who speak little or no English is expected to double to 1.5 million in the next 15 years. Honig said that while there has been “a big increase” in bilingual teachers and teachers trained to work with limited-English-proficient students, the increase “has not kept up with the growth” of the student population.

Another problem with bilingual education, Honig said, is that for the most part it stresses teaching students to speak English before offering in-depth essential courses in math, literature, science and other subjects. Students would be better off learning those essentials partly in their native language concurrent with their English studies, he said.

“The hallmark of bilingual education should be what those kids are learning” apart from learning to speak English, Honig said.

Acosta said Honig’s speech was “encouraging, because now we have support at the highest level of education.”

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