Teachers at Santa Ana’s Martin Elementary worry how much Spanish they can speak at the school, in Orange County’s immigrant epicenter.

Parents at Gates Elementary in Lake Forest agonized all summer over how to save their school’s Spanish-English dual-immersion program.

At Johnson Middle School in Westminster, classroom aides must decide how to help students in English instead of Spanish or Vietnamese.

It has been hailed as California’s latest ready-for-export social experiment. But as schools across Orange County and California implement Proposition 227 this month, big questions loom over the landmark initiative.

How much foreign language can teachers use?

How do you teach students who don’t know the names for colors or the letters of the alphabet in any language?

What happens if students don’t learn English fast enough?

The biggest question of all: Will it work?

The Orange County Register will spend the 1998-99 school year at Martin, Gates and Johnson to answer that question and to report on how the first year under 227 plays out in the classroom.

The initiative _ ending three decades of bilingual education _ requires that California’s limited-English students be taught “overwhelmingly” in English and be moved out of special programs, usually after one year.

California has more than 1.4 million limited-English students _ nearly half of the U.S. total _ who will be affected by 227. The initiative has sparked a national debate that has reached Capitol Hill and the White House.

Students are pouring back into classrooms this week, and teachers are girding to put into practice what voters backed.

Champions of 227 say the measure will accelerate English learning and better equip students for higher education and the workplace.

The law comes as California schools are trying to raise academic standards, including new requirements to hold back students who fail standardized tests _ tests administered in English.

While conceding that the old programs had problems, many in the classroom worry that 227 will will create a language barrier that will isolate limited-English students and leave them unable to grasp concepts.

In the early going, teachers, administrators and parents say they must adjust to the language of a new law.

Teachers at Martin, for example, are struggling to understand what the law means to them. Can kids take books home and read in Spanish? Can teachers write homework instructions in Spanish? Can Spanish words hang on classroom bulletin boards?

“The foundation we’ve built is now thrown up in the air,” said Roxanna Owings, principal at Martin Elementary.


The bilingual education battle ended at the ballot box in June, when California voters strongly backed Proposition 227, the law requiring English learners to be taught in English.

Now come the questions: How well are children learning English and how is the law being applied in the classroom?

During the 1998-99 school year, the Orange County Register will chronicle the impact of the law at three schools:

Martin Elementary in Santa Ana, Gates Elementary in Lake Forest and Johnson Middle in Westminster.

Upcoming stories include:

How do teachers determine students’ fluency? Are students learning English faster this year?

What factors outside the classroom influence how children learn a second language?

How do schools communicate with parents who don’t speak English?

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