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L.A. Schools Draw Up 2-Year Bilingual-Ed. Plan in Wake of Audit

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The Los Angeles Unified School District has drawn up a plan to revamp its bilingual-education program in the wake of a highly critical state audit.

Under the plan, middle and high school students with limited proficiency in English will be pulled out of courses inappropriate to their language levels and be given access to classes they need to graduate.

After reviewing the audit, which ended in April and covered roughly 10 percent of the district's schools, Acting State Superintendent of Public Education William D. Dawson threatened to pull $60 million from the district's bilingual-education program if it did not make improvements by December.

Last month, the state approved the district's two-year plan to bring itself into compliance with the state's and its own rules.

California audits local bilingual-education programs every three years to make sure they square with state and federal regulations.

About 83,500 secondary school students in Los Angeles, roughly 40 percent of the total, are not fluent in English.

Both state policy and the district's master plan call for students with limited proficiency in English to be taught core subjects such as math and science in their native languages until they can succeed in regular classes.

Lack of Qualified Teachers

According to the state's audit:

  • More than half the 49 schools that were examined were not providing English-language courses appropriate to their students' proficiency levels.
  • Students in more than half the schools did not have full access to core courses in their native languages even though they were entitled to such instruction.
  • More than 75 percent of the schools lacked qualified teachers or aides.
  • State and federal bilingual-education funds had been spent inappropriately at 17 schools.

Of all the schools reviewed, only one was in full compliance with relevant regulations, according to Norm C. Gold, the state education official who headed the audit.

The district's improvement plan for secondary schools focuses on teacher training, reflecting the fact that the system has more than 100 bilingual-education-teacher vacancies, school officials said.

To help fill those slots, the district will create a program to help some of its 8,658 paraprofessionals become certified bilingual educators.

The plan also calls for more days for staff development, assigning one bilingual-education expert to every seven schools, and running teacher-mentoring sessions.

According to Leticia Quezada, the president of the Los Angeles school board, "the alarm the state has rung was probably a blessing in disguise.''

"We have to be held accountable,'' she said. "The stakes are too high in terms of the loss of education to students.''

Sally Peterson, a veteran Los Angeles teacher and the president of Learning English Advocates Drive, a group that advocates teaching students who cannot speak English through immersion, said the system remains fundamentally flawed.

"We are not teaching children English,'' Ms. Peterson said. "It's evident that we have a Spanish-development program.''

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