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Bilingual-Education Column

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Faced with a burgeoning immigrant population, Seattle now faces a lawsuit charging that the city's public schools are not providing enough native-language instruction to serve its limited-English-proficient students.

The complaint, brought last month by Evergreen Legal Services, a non-profit legal advocacy group, on behalf of 18 students and their parents, claims the district is not complying with a state law requiring it to provide dual-language instruction when practical.

The suit also asks that the district provide more courses in English as a second language to students from other linguistic backgrounds, who account for almost a quarter of its 44,000-student enrollment.

The district, in turn, filed its own complaint against the state of Washington, thus moving the case from a state superior court to the U.S. District Court.

The district--which receives about $3 million in state and federal funding for bilingual education and spends another $5.3 million of its own funds for such programs--claims it is doing all it reasonably can to fund the increasing costs of bilingual education and that the state should pay a bigger share.

The amount spent on bilingual education in Seattle schools has increased by about 30 percent over the past four years. Its students speak about 75 different languages, with the largest ethnic groups being Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Hispanic.

Los Angeles County officials, already reeling from budget problems, report that influxes of immigrants and refugees have left them with even worse money woes.

A report recently submitted to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors says school districts in the county last year spent $1.4 billion, or 23 percent of educational funds, on immigrant, refugee, and alien children, as well as on citizens born to undocumented persons living here.

The study, by the county's internal-services department, prompted calls to crack down on illegal immigration as well as outcries from immigrant-rights groups, who claimed the study ignored the economic contributions of these new county residents.

Nearly a quarter of the nation's estimated 20 million foreign-born residents entered the country during the second half of the 1980's, the U.S. Census Bureau reports.

Almost 8 percent of the United States's 1990 population was born abroad, the report found, with more than 1 in 5 of the immigrants coming from Mexico. More than 60 percent of foreign-born residents are not U.S. citizens, the bureau found.

The locations with the largest proportions of foreign-born residents included Dade County, Fla., Queens County, N.Y., and San Francisco and Los Angeles County in California.

The Latino National Political Survey released last month found that more than 65 percent of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban citizens believe too many immigrants are entering the country.

One reflection of the growth of the nation's Hispanic population is the fact that, when some California high school students pick up their school newspapers, they are not just getting the news, they are also getting la noticias.

A growing number of high school newspapers in that state have begun to address the needs of their sizable Spanish-speaking readership by printing articles and entire sections in Spanish.

Tonya L. Sparkes, the adviser for the student newspaper at Ukiah High School in Ukiah, a town in the northern part of the state, said her school's three-year experiment with bilingual journalism began when the Ukiahilite, the school's official student newspaper, recruited members of a Spanish class who had been printing their own small journal.

Noting that about 20 percent of the school's students are Hispanic, Ms. Sparks said the two groups decided to join forces.

Articles written in Spanish now account for about 15 percent of the Ukiahilite, which varies in size from 16 to 20 pages. Spanish "pops up, literally, everywhere,'' in the paper, Ms. Sparks said.

At the time Ukiah High began printing its bilingual paper, Ms. Sparks said, she knew of only one other school paper in the state that was doing the same thing. Now, she said, at least 20 bilingual high school newspapers circulate in her state.

Ms. Sparks and Galen P. Rosenberg, the adviser for the bilingual student newspaper at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, have been asked to discuss their experiences at an upcoming meeting of the Journalism Education Association.

Those interested in following their lead probably will not hear just good news, however.

Both advisers last week said their staffs have had difficulty wrestling with the question of how to format the paper, knowing that students are likely to discard entire sections if they cannot read them.

And Mr. Rosenberg, whose staff began printing Spanish translations and original Spanish articles this year, said most of the reaction he has heard from students and parents has been negative.

"There are people who feel passionately about the English-only kind of attitude,'' he said.

Nevertheless, he added, "the editors are very enthusiastic about it.''--P.S.

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