School bilingual problems get scrutiny

Riverside district officials work to correct the situation, which is blamed on a scarcity of qualified teachers.

RIVERSIDE—Federal and state officials are investigating violations of bilingual education laws in the Riverside Unified School District caused by a lack of certified teachers.

As investigators complete their joint report, district officials acknowledge the problems and say they will keep working to improve programs that serve 15 percent of their students.

“We’re putting people in place to make sure it gets fixed,” said Betsy Sample, director of the district’s limited-English proficient services.

The probe by the state Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office For Civil Rights, which included visits to Riverside in the spring, sprouted from a routine state review two years ago.

In 1995, state officials found that some Riverside students who were not proficient in English were not receiving proper bilingual instruction, including some instruction in their native language. They also determined that the district did not have enough certified bilingual teachers and had too few in training.

Officials also found that some English learners did not have enough books in their native language.

Deputy Superintendent Phillip Perez said the problems resulted from staffing shortages, difficulty in finding proper materials, and some inattention by staff.

“Sometimes the specialized needs are lost,” Perez said. “You need to keep that at the forefront. “

District efforts to improve the program included:

o Creating a new “bilingual ladder” program to pay all or part of college fees for bilingual aides who pledge to teach in the district.

o Adding an administrator to bolster bilingual teacher recruitment.

o Hiring a staff development specialist to train and prepare teachers to receive certificates to teach bilingual education.

o Requiring new teachers to pledge they will pursue a bilingual certificate to teach English to nonnative speakers.

o Paying special stipends to encourage teachers to get bilingual certificates.

The 1995 violations – most of which have been fixed – prompted the state to include the district in its formal monitoring program.

The program targets districts that serve large populations of English learners that have been out of compliance, said Norm Gold, the state’s manager for bilingual compliance.

Gold said problems like those faced by Riverside are not unheard of in large school systems. Districts across the state are challenged by the shortage of certified bilingual teachers, but should train those they already employ, he said.

The monitoring program, known as the Comite de Padres process, takes its name from a committee of parents whose 1979 lawsuit led to closer review of state districts for bilingual compliance. Each year, state education officials bring 10 districts into the program. This year, Riverside and the Banning Unified School District were added to the program. Other local districts already in the program are Moreno Valley, Coachella Valley and Desert Sands schools, Gold said.

Districts remain in the program until their bilingual programs are in compliance and they have their own monitoring system. That can take years, Gold said.

A major factor behind the violations is the shortage of bilingual teachers, said Lauri Burnham, a state bilingual consultant. Across California, the number of certified bilingual teachers increased this year by 10.5 percent, but about 30,000 more are needed, Burnham said.

In Riverside, 92 certified bilingual teachers who are fluent in another language were needed in the 1995-96 school year, Sample said. As for teachers who are certified to teach English learners in English, the district was short by 61. Because many English learners are in primary grades, the shortage will increase as the district proceeds to reduce class sizes in kindergarten and second grades.

Violations involving the lack of native-language books and inadequate teacher training have been resolved, Gold said. Any remaining violations will be detailed in the report, which will be completed soon.

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