California’s largest school districts are taking on Gov. Pete Wilson over a new standardized test. Their objection? State law says the test must be given in English. Of course, that wouldn’t be a problem if the schools did their job.

The Los Angeles School Board voted last week to sue Wilson rather than administer a new reading, writing and math test this spring. Every public school student in the second through 11th grades will take it.

But the state’s biggest school districts – especially those with large Spanish-speaking populations – want to be exempt from the tests because they are being given only in English.

Los Angeles, for example, has about 90,000 Spanish-speaking students. There are some 1.3 million ”limited-English- proficient” students in California.

Los Angeles isn’t the only district pitching a fit. San Francisco’s school superintendent is vowing to respond with ”civil disobedience.” And the San Diego School Board is trying to persuade the state to report non-English speakers’ scores separately.

School officials complain that the test is ”insensitive” to non-English speakers, harmful to children’s self-esteem and probably a violation of their civil rights.

”It’s unconstitutional and illegal to give a test to students in a language they cannot read,” said Jeff Horton, a member of the Los Angeles School Board.

”Can you imagine a little child, a second-, third-, fourth-grader, who’s . . . taken the test and their parents get the results back, and they’re zero?” added the Los Angeles board’s president, Julie Korenstein.

We just wish these educators would be this impassioned about educating kids to read, write and do math.

We know that parents are already upset – not at the state for its callousness, but at the schools for keeping their children ignorant for so long. Several groups of Hispanic parents have marched against bilingual education. This should be a clarion call to reform.

What’s really behind these school board members’ righteous indignation? Most likely a gnawing fear of being exposed.

Whatever else may be said, the rush to defend bilingual ed shows that public school administrators don’t expect as much of their non-English-speaking students. But above all, it exposes the intellectual bankruptcy of bilingual education, even as it’s awash in money.

The U.S. spends more than $ 10 billion a year on bilingual-ed schemes. And the Golden State alone pours $ 300 million into its bilingual program each year.

And for what? Some kids languish in these so-called bilingual programs up to eight years without mastering English. And only 5% of bilingual students graduate to proficiency in any given year.

Most people are fed up. Californians will vote in June on a measure that would radically reform the state’s bilingual education system.

The English for the Children initiative, Proposition 227, will allow districts to provide one year of ”sheltered English” before moving students into mainstream classes. It doesn’t necessarily end all bilingual education. Parents in a particular school district could vote on having a program and what method to use.

No surprise that Latino parents support the measure in huge numbers – upwards of 85% in one poll – and bilingual-ed teachers oppose it vigorously.

School districts may get their wish and be given a pass on giving the new tests in English. But it will be a temporary victory if Prop. 227 passes, as most observers expect.

When that happens, here’s our suggestion to the schools: Quit whining, and do your job. Teach the kids English.



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