Proposition 227 may have outlawed most bilingual education programs in California’s public schools but it did nothing to reduce the need for teachers who speak more than one language and understand more than one culture.
As long as schools must rise to the challenge of teaching children who possess limited English-language skills–and that describes about 20% of Ventura County’s public school clientele–those schools are obliged to keep recruiting and training teachers who can do that job.
Therefore, we concur with the decision by Ventura County school officials to continue paying for bilingual teacher training and recruitment, despite concerns that the programs go against the will of local voters who approved Proposition 227.
That said, we support those Ventura County school districts that are making a good-faith effort to carry out the Proposition 227 mandate. One year after the controversial measure was passed by a large margin, bilingual programs are still going strong in most local districts. Only a few–including Santa Paula and Fillmore–eliminated all their bilingual classes. Officials in Ventura, Port Hueneme and Oxnard reinstated bilingual classes after just one month of intensive English-language instruction, using an exemption that allowed parents to submit waivers to keep their children out of English-only classes.
Only time and test results will tell if the structured English-immersion method dictated by Proposition 227 can deliver what its backers promised: rapid academic fluency in English. But there are signs of success coming from classrooms where the mandate is being followed by energetic, creative teachers.
We would like to see those efforts succeed so well that fewer and fewer parents feel the need to file waivers to have their children taught in other languages. There is no question that everyone will be better off–students, parents, school systems and taxpayers–if this period of experimentation and uncertainty yields a sure-fire strategy for quickly bringing non-English- speakers up to speed.
The Times opposed Proposition 227 not because of its goal but because it allowed little leeway in achieving the goal. In practice, however, many teachers have used other languages to explain abstract concepts and help puzzled learners. The result, no surprise to anyone who has spent any time around young children, is that students are absorbing English like a sponge.
We encourage all Ventura County school districts to take a lesson from those that are achieving the intended goal of Proposition 227–faster English fluency with less reliance on instruction in other languages. But we believe it is far to soon to abandon efforts to recruit and train bilingual teachers.