OAKLAND — How do you provide an equally comprehensive education to students who speak different native languages?
Not very easily. The California State Department of Education recently withdrew bilingual funding from the Oakland Unified School District because of the district’s repeated violations of state bilingual education requirements.
The withholding of funds, reportedly amounting to more than 9 million, is in response to inadequate documentation of the district’s action to improve bilingual education, which includes texts and services for LEP (Limited English Proficiency) students and the recruitment of bilingual education teachers.
“We are working to develop a compliance agreement with the state and then funding will be returned…this should be taken care of before the bilingual program feels any impact from the withdrawal,” said Dee De Davis, director of bilingual education for the Oakland Unified School District.
According to Davis, the issue is one of more formal documentation of action rather than a lack of action. “This is our first priority and I see a definite commitment here, but I think there needs to be more communication with the community about our efforts. I want to involve more Asian parents and those from the Hispanic communities,” said Davis.
The district, 26 percent of whose student population is in need of bilingual education, has been troubled with long-standing accusations about the inadequacy of its commitment to bilingual education.
In 1984, a group of citizens led by Mario Zambrano sued the district for its breach of state and federal law to provide LEP students with equal access to the required academic core curriculum.
Last spring, the district was found to fail in meeting the terms of a settlement agreement signed in 1991 and is currently slated for an arbitration meeting regarding compliance with the settlement.
The two major issues of the settlement, according to Margaretta Wan Ling Lin, legal counsel for the Zambrano suit, are the lack of an academic core curriculum in students’ native languages and the hiring of only 22 certificated bilingual teachers in 1992, when they were required to hire 92.
“The state department’s action shows that the district is not providing adequate bilingual services…they’ve done symbolic compliance. The generate a lot of paper and come up with a lot of plans, but no action,” said Lin, who believes the state’s action confirms the claims of the Zambrano plaintiffs.
“You would think that if one-third of your student population is bilingual, you would go out of your way to get more bilingual teachers. They’re shooting themselves in the foot,” said Lin. “We recognize that there is a shortage of bilingual teachers, but they’ve done nothing about improving the recruitment process or retention programs to keep the bilingual teachers.”
Because the district has had difficulty in attracting new bilingual teachers to the area, they have been concentrating its efforts on getting existing teachers to receive bilingual certification.
“We are subsidizing programs and training and giving stipends to get teachers to obtain certification. This is the best way for us to reach the goal of bilingual teachers,” said Dan Siegel, an attorney for the district.
“What happens is that the kids don’t understand so there is a disproportionate drop-out rate. They drop out, join gangs and that’s it. Something has to be done,” said Lin.