State's Bilingual School Programs Called Dismal

Study says many students don't get the basics

A two-year study of bilingual education across California concludes that secondary schools do such a poor job of teaching students with limited English skills that thousands of youngsters are not offered even the basic courses in mathematics, science and social studies they need to graduate.

”Beyond a steady diet of English-as-a-second-language classes for all limited-English pupils, few schools offered programs that used the students’ native language for content classes,” such as math or science, said the report by educational researchers at Berman Weiler Associates of Berkeley.

Similar problems were less evident in elementary schools. But the report pointed to several roadblocks in the progress of middle- and high school students, including a shortage of teachers willing and able to teach courses designed for limited-English students, difficulties in obtaining appropriate textbooks, and poor assessment of the students’ training from their home country.

Only six of 27 high schools surveyed offered a full range of courses in languages other than English. Three offered no special programs, and the remainder offered ”quite sparse coverage” of subjects.

”These factors undoubtedly contribute to the high dropout rates” of students speaking little English, the report said.

California’s public schools enroll nearly 1 million students identified as limited-English speakers, or about 18 percent of students in kindergarten through grade 12. Between 1987 and 1990, their enrollment in grades 7 through 12 grew by 43.5 percent.

The report was commissioned by the state Legislature in 1988 after California’s Bilingual Education Act expired, and with it, numerous state regulations.

It was presented yesterday in San Francisco at the annual convention of the California Association for Bilingual Education. Educators there said they hoped the report would inspire updated regulations, including a requirement that each school create a plan for educating limited-English students of all ages.

Also presented at the convention yesterday was a San Francisco school district report defending the placement of disproportionate numbers of black students in bilingual classes, saying that students in bilingual classes improve at about the same rate in most subjects as other pupils.

”Placing students in bilingual classes does not seem educationally deleterious,” said the five-page report, which tracked the same students over two years in bilingual and regular classes.

The district, which routinely places native-English speakers in bilingual classes, came under fire nearly a year ago because blacks are placed in the classes at twice the rate as whites. Blacks make up 20.1 percent of elementary school students, and whites 15.1 percent.

The report showed that from 1990 through 1991, the two test groups of elementary students improved their scores at about the same rate in reading and language regardless of whether they were in bilingual or regular classes.

However, math scores of students in bilingual classes dropped significantly during the two years, while those in regular classes improved. The report acknowledged this but dismissed its importance.

”Math achievement in bilingual classes is not on a par with math achievement in nonbilingual classes. However, the (Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills) does not measure the benefits of cultural diversity and language plurality experienced in bilingual classes,” according to the report.

The report did not address why black children are placed at a higher rate in the bilingual classes, and it ran into problems when discussing why any native-English speaking students are assigned to the classes. It said that schools are ”legally mandated” to assign English and non-English speakers to bilingual classes. But the state law requiring that blend expired in 1987.

The report also said that federal law requires integrated classes. But in San Francisco, as long as bilingual students spend 25 percent of the day mingling with native speakers, that rule is met.

Ligaya Avenida, the district’s bilingual director, admitted that the report was in error, but said that a previous practice of assigning black students to bilingual classes without parental permission had been corrected.

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