Successful school classes may be dismantled

DUAL language immersion programs are some of the most popular in Bay Area public schools. Under Proposition 227, school officials fear, they may also be illegal.

And that, regardless of how one feels about bilingual education and the changes wrought by 227, is a problem that needs to be remedied.

Dual immersion programs aim to make children bilingual, but they are not “bilingual education” in the traditional sense of the term.

The programs usually start in kindergarten or first grade, and continue until the fifth or sixth grade. Half the students are native English speakers and half native speakers of a foreign language, such as Spanish or Mandarin. Classes are initially taught mostly in the foreign language, but by the time the program ends, that ratio is 50-50.

The goal is for students to emerge from these programs able to read, write and speak in two languages. And judging from the awards won by some local programs and the long waiting lists to get into others, they work.

But among Proposition 227’s faults is that it doesn’t distinguish between programs that work and those that don’t.

Some year-round dual immersion schools, such as Fiesta Gardens in San Mateo, started before the new law kicked in (although they, too, will be subject to 227’s provisions in January). Administrators from other districts said they aren’t yet sure what they’ll do.

Parents can, of course, apply for waivers under Proposition 227, but that’s hardly a solution because the law requires that students who are not fluent in English first spend 30 days in an English language immersion program. Between that and the time it could take for applications to go through, students will be losing valuable classroom time.

A couple of dual immersion schools in Orange County have applied to the state Department of Education for alternative school status. We think those applications should be approved. And if they are, that could provide a blueprint for other districts to follow.

Another possible solution could present itself if the courts order the state Board of Education to hear school districts’ waiver requests.

We opposed Proposition 227 on the grounds that it would eliminate local control and mandate a one-size-fits-all approach to bilingual education.

And that’s exactly what’s happened. The uncertainty faced by the state’s dual immersion programs provides just one more example of why this is bad law.

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