ANAHEIM, CA—Harkening back to the civil-rights and peace protests of the ’60s and ’70s, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown on Friday urged teachers, administrators, students and parents to flock to Sacramento and raise their voices in support of bilingual education.
“I want to see you become so politically active that the wave of sit-in demonstrations at the governor’s office will exhaust the jail space from those arrested when they are ordered removed,” Brown, D-San Francisco, told 5,000 bilingual teachers at the Anaheim Hilton hotel.
In a speech to the California Association for Bilingual Education, Brown castigated Gov. George Deukmejian for his November veto of a bill to extend mandated bilingual programs past their designated June cutoff and for his proposed budget that cuts funds for disadvantaged students.
Bilingual education — teaching students in their native language while slowlyintegrating them into English-only classrooms — has been among the most volatile and divisive issues to face the California Legislature.
It has been of particular importance in Orange County, where 47,500 students —
14 percent of the total school population — received instruction in a languageother than English in 1986. Orange County’s bilingual population is second only to Los Angeles County.
Brown told the educators, who cheered him enthusiastically, that they had to “flex political muscle” if they hoped to ensure continued funding for bilingual programs in California.
“In one manner or another, you must translate your numbers and your energy into a course of political action that causes us at the state level to change our conduct,” Brown said.
“I would love to have all 600,000 bilingual-education students (in California) show up at the Capitol on one given day,” he said.
Strong support from teachers will be necessary to defeat bills aimed at dismantling bilingual programs, such as one introduced last week by Assemblyman Frank Hill, Brown said.
Hill, R-Whittier, was the Assembly’s most fervent backer of Proposition 63, overwhelmingly passed in November to make English the official language of California.
“The confrontations that must take place in the political arena over this issue are just enormous,” Brown said.
Leaders of the teachers association, the largest of its kind in the state, said they hope to gain support from a U.S. Government Accounting Office report that says bilingual programs are the best way to integrate non-English-speaking students into society.
The GAO, an independent investigatory arm of Congress, is scheduled to release the report in the next few weeks.
Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, president of the bilingual association, said at a news conference that the report, written by 10 experts after a 15-month study, will convince skeptics that bilingual programs work.
“Contrary to assertions by foes of bilingual education, including the U.S. secretary of education, experts support the use of native languages in teaching limited-English-proficient students,” she said.
Spiegel-Coleman said the report would be sent to Deukmejian in the hope it would convince him to change his stance on bilingual education and sign new legislation introduced by Brown to extend funding for the programs through 1992.
Ricardo Martinez, a legislative analyst for Rep. Augustus Hawkins, D-Los Angeles, noted that bilingual programs have come under recent attack by Education Secretary William Bennett.
Bennett has called for the elimination of federally funded programs to teach immigrant students in their native language. He has proposed cutting $ 49 million for bilingual programs, saying that studies conclude they do not work.
But the GAO report refutes that conclusion, Martinez said, and asserts that Bennett’s findings are based on a poor understanding of the evidence.
In part, the GAO report says, “In disagreement with the Education Department’s position, experts generally believed the evidence was strong that some degree of teaching in the native language aided children’s learning of English.”
Said Martinez, “What is significant about this study is that it was done by the GAO. This agency is telling the secretary of education that his policies are misguided.”
Response by Bennett to the GAO study has been quick, Martinez said.
The education secretary has launched a “vicious and unfounded rebuttal to intimidate the GAO into not releasing this report,” he said.