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Union Votes Down Bilingual Method

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Los Angeles public-school teachers, who work with the largest population of language-minority students in the nation, this summer signaled their dissatisfaction with the district's current bilingual-education method by voicing support for instruction that is predominantly in English.

In balloting on two referenda within their union, members of the United Teachers-Los Angeles backed "an immersion program in English, which would include intensive English as a second language," with "native-language assistance" provided by bilingual aides. The teachers who voted rejected a second measure backing4the district's present policy of providing native-language instruction.

The immersion referendum included language favoring elimination of the Los Angeles Unified School District's policy of asking monolingual teachers of limited-English-proficient students to sign a "waiver" agreeing that they will learn the relevant second language, at their own expense, within seven years.

Although the state law requiring teachers of 10 or more lep students to have bilingual certification was vetoed this summer by Gov. George Deukmejian, district officials have thus far continued the waiver policy. (See Education Week, Aug. 5, 1987.)

About 78 percent of the u.t.l.a.8members voting supported the immersion referendum. A union official noted, however, that the 5,346-to-1,499 vote represented only about a third of the u.t.l.a.'s membership of 20,000. The second measure, sponsored by the u.t.l.a's Chicano Education Committee, was defeated by a 3,934-to-2,831 tally.

California Being 'Watched'

Some say the union's preferential vote had more to do with the waiver rules than with the merits of bilingual education; others contend that it could have an impact on the bilingual-education movement nationally.

The Los Angeles district's proel15lgram of transitional bilingual education, which provides instruction in students' native languages to ease the transition to all-English instruction, is the most extensive in the country. But the teacher vote, combined with the Governor's veto of the bilingual law, has shaken supporters of the transitional approach.

"What California does is watched by the country" and may trigger policy shifts nationwide, said Sally Peterson, president of Learning English Advocates Drive, the teachers' group that sponsored the immersion initiative. "If what we are proposing is proven to work, it behooves the rest of the country to go along."

Ms. Peterson said support for the immersion referendum underscored teachers' frustration with the transitional method, which some believe delays students' progress in English.

But others argue that the referendum highlights the district's problems in recruiting bilingual teachers. Of the more than 5,000 teachers assigned to bilingual-education classrooms, only about 2,000 are certified bilingual instructors, while 3,691 are working under waivers, according to district officials. The district's bilingual teachers receive an extra $2,000 a year, but are required to work 2.5 extra hours a week.

Of the district's 590,000 students, 159,000 speak little or no English. The district has students from 84 language groups, although Spanish speakers account for about 90 percent of the lep students.

Rules Said the Issue

Union officials and bilingual-education supporters argue that the referendum's outcome has to do primarily with the waiver policy.

About 100 teachers have refused to sign the waivers, which means under the district's policy that they can be reassigned to another class or school.

Catherine Carey, the u.t.l.a. director of communications, said the waivers are unpopular, especially with veteran teachers.

She added that teachers who agree to take language instruction still have no job guarantee because the bilingual-certification tests have a high failure rate.

"A lot of teachers have said they are not going to spend the money to take the courses and then fail," she said.

"The vote was not against bilingual education but against the bilingual program as operated in Los Angeles," said the utla president, Wayne Johnson.

A spokesman for the National Education Association, which passed a resolution this summer supporting bilingual programs "where resources permit," said waivers appeared to be a big factor in the union's vote.

Waivers were "the main issue for the people who did vote," said Jim Lyons, counsel to the National Association for Bilingual Education. ''It was a vote against having to learn a second language, clear and simple."

Mr. Lyons downplayed the vote's implications, saying "disgruntled teachers" also resisted desegregation efforts and the movement to mainstream handicapped students. But he said the vote pointed to the need for more intensive training and recruiting of bilingual teachers.

Linda Chavez, a former Reagan Administration official who is now president of U.S. English, said the vote represents "specific frustration" over the waivers and growing sentiment that "the bilingual system has some deficiencies and may not get children fluent in English as quickly as other approaches."

Ms. Chavez said U.S. English, which helped mount the campaign last year that made English California's official language, is not "philosophically opposed" to bilingual education but wants federal and state laws to give school districts more leeway to choose methods that suit their lep students and to give parents more say in their placement.

Although Governor Deukmejian's veto of the California law leaves state officials with little power to regulate bilingual-education programs, they recently issued a directive notifying school administrators of their legal obligation to provide language assistance to lep students.

While the directive does not bind districts to a specific method, it advises them "that if they have something working, they should stick to it," said a spokesman for Bill Honig, superintendent of California schools.

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