The New York Times
October 3, 1998

          California Still Debates Bilingual Education

          By DON TERRY

               LOS ANGELES -- Bilingual education in California was supposed to
               be in a grave by now, essentially killed when residents voted last
          spring to end it.

          The ballot initiative, supported by 61 percent of the voters, sought to
          replace 30 years of using Spanish and other foreign languages to help
          immigrant children in the state learn to read, write and speak English with
          a method that uses "nearly all" English instruction.

          But more than a month into the current school term, bilingual education is
          clearly still breathing. The reasons are a subject of hot debate.

          Supporters of the initiative, Proposition 227, assert that school districts
          and the education bureaucracy are resisting the will of the voters, taking
          advantage of loopholes to preserve a rejected method of teaching.

          Critics of the proposition see the bumpy transition as a result of confusion,
          reluctance on the part of some parents and teachers to push children into
          instruction they are not ready for, and even basic logistical issues like the
          lack of textbooks.

          What is clear is that the fight over Proposition 227 is not over yet.

          Doug Stone, a spokesman for the state Education Department, said he
          had heard of no open defiance of the law and "when push came to shove,
          virtually all of the districts are complying."

          Some do not agree with that assessment.

          "A lot of people are trying to loosely interpret and undermine this law,"
          said Sean Walsh, a spokesman for Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican and a
          critic of bilingual education. "The law says 'nearly all' should be taught in
          English. But many districts are using 40 percent Spanish and 60 percent

          The law does not define what "nearly all" means, so there is much
          disagreement over what constitutes compliance.

          Elena Soto-Chapa, the statewide education director for the Mexican
          American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which has gone to court
          seeking to block the initiative, said that how the hundreds of school
          districts across the state defined "nearly all" was "just all over the

          Ms. Soto-Chapa said some districts were using a 60-40 English-foreign
          language formula while others were using 70-30 or 80-20. "There's a lot
          of confusion," she said. "It's a very political, murky environment right

          The Los Angeles United School District, with 681,505 students the
          second largest in the country behind New York City, offers two programs
          for pupils with limited English ability: Model A and Model B. In Model A,
          the classes are taught virtually all in English. In Model B, 65 percent to 70
          percent of the classes are taught in English.

          Alice Callaghan, one of the leading proponents of Proposition 227, said
          "L.A. is absolutely out of compliance."

          The state Education Department has set up a study group to help districts
          implement the law.

          "We realized that before June 2 and after June 2 there would be more
          questions than answers," Stone said, referring to the day the initiative was
          approved. "But that isn't a sign from heaven that school districts can
          thwart the law."

          Out of the 5.5 million public school pupils in California, about 1.4 million
          have a limited understanding of English, but only 30 percent of them were
          enrolled in bilingual education programs last year. The rest were in classes
          in which teachers used nearly all English. There were not enough qualified
          teachers for bilingual classes.

          Under Proposition 227, some parents are eligible to request that their
          children be retained in a bilingual program, and such waivers can be be
          granted by a school district under three circumstances: The child has a
          physical or psychological need to be in bilingual education, the child is
          over 10 years old or the child speaks English.

          But the question of waivers is also the subject of intense and varied
          interpretation and debate. Before a waiver can be granted, a child must
          spend the first 30 days of school in a class taught primarily in English. That
          period has now expired for about 25,000 Los Angeles pupils with limited
          English skills who started the new year in late summer. Although many
          expected a wave of request for waivers, only about 1,300 have been
          sought so far, said Forrest Ross, director of language acquisition for the
          Los Angeles district.

          Ms. Soto-Chapa said, "I think a lot of parents are taking a wait and see

          At the Logan Street School in Los Angeles, a few blocks from Dodger
          Stadium, parents of 250 of the 360 pupils eligible have asked for and
          received waivers. Those children are now in bilingual classes.

          "We're not trying to circumvent the law," said Logan Street's principal,
          May Arakaki. "We're just giving the parents the options they and their
          children deserve and are entitled to."

          Mrs. Arakaki and her staff have had to do some fancy juggling. Mrs.
          Arakaki had to move three children whose parents signed waivers into
          Helen Trevino's second-grade class, which is primarily bilingual, and
          move three others into an English-immersion class.

          Still, Ms. Trevino has a class of nine bilingual pupils and six who are
          taught primarily in English, forcing her to go from table to table and tongue
          to tongue. Ideally, the class would be either all bilingual or virtually all

          "I'm for bilingual education," Ms. Trevino said. "But the new law has
          passed and we have to deal with it."

          In one twist, 39 of the nearly 1,000 schools districts in California --
          including Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno and Oakland -- have
          requested waivers of some kind to teaching all classes primarily in English
          -- whether for individual schools or for entire districts.

          But in August, the state Board of Education, whose 11 members are
          appointed by the governor, refused to consider the waiver requests,
          saying it did not have the authority to grant them to districts.

          "The initiative was very clear about waivers," said Bill Lucia, executive
          director of the state school board. "And it doesn't say anything about
          districtwide waivers."

          After the board refused to hear the requests, the districts of Oakland,
          Hayward and Berkeley took the board to court, demanding that it be
          forced to do so.

          "We feel that bilingual education works and we feel that our community
          believes in bilingual education," said Sue Piper, a spokeswoman for the
          53,000-pupil Oakland Unified School District. "That's not to say it's
          perfect. But our test scores show that the children who graduate from
          bilingual education do very well."

          Alameda County Superior Court Judge Henry Needham ruled last month
          that the board had to hear the districts' waiter requests. The board
          appealed the decision and voted to postpone action on the requests
          pending the outcome of the appeal. That could be months, and in the
          meantime the districts are required to implement the proposition.

          Wilson had urged the board to appeal Needham's decision, saying his
          decision "could potentially eviscerate Proposition 227."

          Lucia said that some of the board members were also concerned that they
          might be sued by proponents of the proposition if they ruled on the
          waivers before the issue of the board's authority had been determined in
          the appeal.

          "It could require individual board members to get lawyers," he said. "It's a
          serious matter. It's a question of losing your house."

          The initiative says that teachers and administrators who implement the law
          improperly can be held liable.

          "We're going to be suing soon," said Ms. Callaghan, a leading supporter
          of the proposition. "We won't let this go on much longer."

          The threat of lawsuits has also had a chilling effect on teachers. Hundreds
          of teachers in Los Angeles signed a petition last spring pledging open
          rebellion if Proposition 227 passed. The teachers vowed to risk being
          sued and dismissed by continuing to use bilingual education methods in
          their classrooms. But so far, the rebellion has not materialized -- at least
          not openly.

          "Open defiance would be dismissal, and that was made very clear to us,"
          said Steve Zimmer a member of On Campus, the teachers' group that
          organized the pledge of resistance. "But you certainly still have defiance.
          It's just being done behind closed doors."

          Zimmer said that some teachers were simply teaching how they had
          always taught immigrant children, using bilingual methods, while others
          who otherwise comply with the law were still using a lot of bilingual
          methods because they did not yet have the books and other materials
          necessary to put the proposition into effect.

          "There aren't enough books," he said. "There are stories about fourth
          graders using kindergarten books."

          Still, Zimmer said, the majority of teachers are doing their best to comply
          with the law.

          "Even though we did the pledge," he said, "I can't in good conscience tell
          a teacher to let this fail so we can get rid of it. The efforts of teachers not
          to damage children is what is making this work at all."

          But Ms. Callaghan said she received almost daily reports of widespread
          non-compliance by teachers and districts.

          "Name me a district that is not defying the law," she said. "There will be
          less Spanish spoken, but that doesn't mean they will teach English
          immersion. The law required that bilingual education be replaced, not
          mended. It's going to be a very unfortunate year."

          Yet at individual schools like Logan Street in Los Angeles, it is more a
          year of improvisation, of trying to accommodate and educate at the same

          Gloria Rodriguez has two children at Logan, a daughter, Christina, 8, a
          third grader, and a son, Gabriel, 9, a fourth grader. Her daughter began
          school in bilingual classes but tested high enough to move into classes
          taught in English before Proposition 227 became the law.

          Mrs. Rodriguez signed a waiver for her son.

          "He's not ready yet," she said. "My daughter is doing very well, and I
          think it is because of bilingual education. When she goes to college, she
          wants to learn Japanese and French. That will be four languages she will
          know how to speak and write. Employers will love her."