Nearly one-third of the 600,000 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District speak little or no English. On paper, the school district has an excellent bilingual education program that teaches the basics in a student’s first language during a gradual transition to full English fluency. But the program is breaking down at too many schools because there are not enough bilingual teachers, teaching assistants or educational aides. The problem is particularly acute at some Westside and San Fernando Valley schools, where predictions of an overflow of students from central city schools were not taken seriously enough.
For years, public school officials and demographers have projected record growth in the number of non-English speaking students, 95% of whom are Spanish-speaking. The task of providing a quality education for all students, particularly those who speak little or no English, is a long-term challenge. But there are steps school officials can take now to alleviate the most pressing problems.
School principals can increase the pool of bilingual aides by aggressive recruitment among local college-bound high school seniors, community college or night school students. Despite some suggestions to the contrary, potential English/Spanish-speaking aides do not all live in Central and East Los Angeles.
If, after serious efforts, school administrators still need to hire aides from outside of the immediate school area — and this may well be necessary — the Los Angeles School board should offer aides a travel allowance. For a change, funding is not the problem. The school district, through specially designated funding, already allocates $5,000 for every 30 students who are transferred, and also makes an allowance for an additional aide, among other things.
Of the district’s 500 schools, there now are only a handful that are not affected in some way or the other by the shortage of bilingual teachers and aides. The problem is hitting not only overcrowded inner-city schools but heretofore relatively untouched suburban schools, now on the receiving end of overflow children from jam-packed city schools. It’s a dramatic reminder of how one part of Los Angeles cannot detach itself from another, and how the futures of immigrants and long-time Angelenos are inextricably linked.