- Los Angeles Times
Saturday, March 14, 1998
- No Change, Gracias
Schools Plan to Keep Bilingual Programs, Despite State
By FRED ALVAREZ, Times Staff Writer
Despite a move to make it easier for school districts to
scrap bilingual education programs, Ventura County
educators said Friday they are unlikely to accept that
offer, arguing that native-language instruction is still the
best way to teach students who struggle with English.
The decision, handed down Thursday by the State
Board of Education, even drew the wrath of bilingual
education opponents, who viewed it as a political ploy
aimed at stalling efforts to do away with such programs
"They are just playing a political game," said Simi
Valley resident Steve Frank, a government affairs
consultant who is spearheading the Ventura County
campaign in support of a statewide initiative aimed at
dismantling all bilingual education programs.
"On one hand, they now understand that bilingual
education is a failure, that it is a fad like the Hula-Hoop
or the Slinky that now belongs at the back of the closet
somewhere," Frank said. "However, what the state board
should have done is mandate that no longer will
classrooms be segregated by language."
The state board voted unanimously to allow local
school districts to shed bilingual education programs
without having to petition Sacramento.
The vote launches a deregulation process that
eventually could free local educators to teach non-English
speakers as they see fit, as long as some help is available.
But across Ventura County, educators said they don't
expect to make any changes in the programs already in
place for the county's 25,000 limited-English speaking
"We have proven that our programs work," said
Yolanda Benitez, superintendent of the Rio School
District, north of Oxnard, where about a third of the
3,000 students don't speak English well or at all.
"We are seeing academic achievements growing in
these youngsters; we're not going to make any changes,"
she said. "Unfortunately, when we talk about bilingual
education, we have lost sight of the children. Regardless
of whether the children are purple or pink, whether they
speak Spanish or Vietnamese, they need programs that
are going to help them do well in school."
Added Joseph Spirito, superintendent of the
17,000-student Ventura Unified School District: "We're
still going to be doing what we've been doing. It's
successful, and we feel the program is showing good
results here in Ventura. I'm just worried that some
districts will choose to drop it completely, and that will be
a sad day for kids."
The move is the latest salvo in a long-running battle to
overhaul bilingual education.
There has been a rising tide of support for scrapping
the program altogether, as more and more people believe
that 25 years of bilingual education have failed
California's school children and placed them at a
The most drastic proposal comes in the form of the
"English for the Children" initiative. That measure, which
will be on the June ballot, is sponsored by Silicon Valley
software entrepreneur Ron K. Unz and would require
virtually all classroom instruction to be in English.
According to that initiative, children who are not fluent
would get about a year of special help in English before
being funneled into mainstream classes. Currently, they
can stay in bilingual classes for up to six years, being
taught primarily in their native language.
The initiative would hold teachers and school officials
personally liable for violating its provisions.
Frank argues that Thursday's vote by the state Board
of Education seeks to stall momentum building for the
initiative by putting the fate of bilingual education
programs in the hands of local school districts. But he
predicts that move will backfire.
"It will only add to the momentum," he said. "The
public will only see that the state board is now against
bilingual education, that it's wrong and that it doesn't
Countywide, about half of the
limited-English-speaking pupils--94% of whom speak
Spanish--get their first few years of instruction in their
Three in 10 are immersed in English-only classes,
with special booster classes to accelerate their language
development. About 14% receive no special attention.
Ventura County educators and activists have launched
a campaign to oppose the measure, saying the effort is
fueled by misinformation and is harmful to non-English
But in the short term, local educators said they don't
expect this week's decision to have any effect on the way
limited-English speakers receive instruction.
"We're always looking for ways to improve the
program; we don't stop that," said Bernard Korenstein,
superintendent of the Oxnard Elementary School District
where about 6,000 students receive some bilingual
"But there are a lot of children who need these
programs," he said. "They're not designed to continue a
child in his or her primary language. They're designed to
teach a child to be successful in the English language by
using his or her primary language to achieve that goal."
Added Nancy Carroll, superintendent of the
2,400-student Ocean View School District south of
Oxnard: "We have a great track record of success. And
without these programs, a great number of these children
would miss vital academic content, which would only
serve to put them further behind."
- Copyright Los Angeles Times