Los Angeles Unified School District officials on Thursday unveiled a blueprint for teaching students who lack fluency in English that calls for expanding the district’s commitment to the controversial concept of bilingual education.
The proposals include a number of significant changes that officials said would give teachers and administrators greater flexibility to serve youngsters who show limited proficiency in English in a district hampered by shortages of bilingual teachers and materials in the 81 languages spoken by students.
If implemented, the plan would mean that, for the first time, bilingual programs would be offered for pre-kindergarten youngsters. And it places a priority on hiring bilingual teachers for kindergarten through third grade, where most of the district’s 160,000 limited-English-speaking students are found.
Shifting High School Emphasis
Also, the plan calls for shifting emphasis in high schools from instruction primarily in English to bilingual programs, and for establishing incentives to recruit and retain bilingual teachers.
The district staff presented to the school board the first four parts in the proposed 10-part Master Plan for bilingual education. Over the next six weeks, the board will review the proposals and hold two public hearings. The board, which has generally favored bilingual education, will vote on a final plan May 5.
“The outcome of this plan will be that we will have a far better program at all levels (for limited-English students),” said board President Rita Walters.
The proposals were spurred by the lapse last year of the state bilingual education law that set out strict requirements for bilingual programs, classroom composition and teacher qualifications. Although its demise by gubernatorial veto dismayed many bilingual education proponents, some school officials, including some in Los Angeles, welcomed it as an opportunity to develop more flexible options.
In elementary grades, district staff outlined four basic programs. The full bilingual program, which is in operation, teaches Spanish-speaking students the basic academic subjects in Spanish from a teacher who holds either a state bilingual credential or has passed a district fluency test.
But if a school lacks a sufficient number of bilingual teachers to do that, it could offer a modified program in which Spanish-speaking students would learn reading, writing and mathematics in Spanish and other subjects primarily in English. In both approaches, bilingual aides would be provided.
A third program is for limited-English students who speak a language other than Spanish. As is now the case, these students would not be taught to read and write in their own language. But they would be taught oral skills in that language, which currently are not stressed. They would learn the academic areas primarily in English, using a technique known as sheltered English. Bilingual teachers would be teamed with monolingual or partially bilingual teachers.
A fourth option would allow schools in certain circumstances to offer instruction primarily in English, but the classes could not have more than 50% limited-English students. This program would be ideal for schools where many different languages are spoken, or where parents of limited-English students request mainly English instruction for their children.
Largely because of a lack of bilingual teachers, most high school students lacking English fluency currently receive English-as-a-second-language instruction. But the proposals recommend increasing bilingual programs for students in grades 9-12. The program may feature team-teaching in the student’s primary language and English or enrolling in a one-year program at a newcomer orientation center, which district officials are developing.
The recommendations also include a so-called extended program, which would offer limited-English high school students an additional year in which to complete high school requirements. This approach would be most helpful to the many immigrant students who are illiterate in their native language when they arrive in the district.
PROPOSED CHANGES IN BILINGUAL PROGRAMS
The Los Angeles Unified School District has unveiled the first part of a new Master Plan for teaching students with limited proficiency in English. Among the highlights:
Emphasis on training teachers to teach bilingual classes for kindergarten through third grade.
Offering bilingual programs to pre-kindergarten students for the first time.
Shifting emphasis in high schools from English as second language courses to bilingual programs.
Toughening standards for advancing from being considered a limited-English student to one who is fluent in English.
Creation of special “language centers” for limited-English students who are bused from crowded schools to ones that don’t offer bilingual classes. The centers would be for speakers of Armenian, Cantonese, Farsi, Khmer, Korean, Pilipino, Spanish and Vietnamese.
A new “trigger” level at which bilingual programs must be offered. In addition to requiring bilingual programs if 10 or more limited-English students of the same language are in one grade level, programs would be required if a total of 15 or more of the students were present in two consecutive grade levels.
More flexibility in the allowable classroom mix of limited-English students and those fluent in English. The old requirement of two-thirds limited-English and one-third fluent could be replaced by 100% limited-English students for part of the day. Other ratios would be allowed, depending on the availability of bilingual teachers.