California Bilingual Rules Relaxed

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A legal opinion stating that California teachers do not need special certification to teach non-English-speaking pupils has raised new questions about the viability of the state's bilingual-education programs in the absence of a governing statute.

The opinion by state Attorney General John K. Van de Kamp appears to be the latest fallout from Gov. George Deukmejian's veto last summer of a bill that would have extended California's bilingual-education law, which expired June 30.

Framed in response to a query from the state's Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the Jan. 20 opinion said the commission could continue to administer tests for bilingual competence and issue credentials based on the results.

It stated, however, that teachers were no longer required to meet the state's bilingual-certification standards, even when "assigned to a position that requires instruction to pupils who are non-English-speaking and the teacher delivers all or part of the instruction" in another language.

The opinion emphasized that the "sunset" of the California law did not eliminate the funding or "general purposes" of its bilingual-education program, or remove schools' obligation to serve limited-English-proficient students under federal laws.

It argued, however, that the law's expiration had terminated specific program requirements, such as the teaching credential, leaving it to school districts to determine what standards teachers should meet.

Inconsistent Standards Feared

Some bilingual-education advocates and credentialing officials in the state say they fear that the opinion could erode services already considered inadequate to meet the needs of California's l.e.p. students, whose numbers are increasing.

According to state education officials, 613,224 children were eligible for bilingual education last spring, but only 7,000 elementary-school teachers were certified to provide such instruction.

An additional 8,000 teachers were assigned to those classrooms under a "waiver" system allowing exceptions for teachers working toward their credentials. Such waivers are no longer required.

The opinion "opens the door wide for teachers who have no experience" to be assigned to l.e.p. pupils, said John Kotick, chief executive officer of the California Association for Bilingual Education.

Walter W. Taylor, staff counsel for the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, argued in an opposing opinion that the law's expiration should have reactivated provisions in an earlier law that established the "scheme and design" for teacher credentialing.

"To say that as long as a person has a credential to teach mathematics, he can be put in a class where no one speaks English ... is insane on its face," Mr. Taylor argued.

"It's our experience," added Richard K. Mastain, executive secretary of the commission, "that evidence of a license is the best way to show employers and the public that someone is competent."

Mr. Mastain, who said California's bilingual-education credentialing program was one of the first and most extensive in the country, also noted that the opinion could cut enrollments in some 70 college and university programs around the state.

David Dolson, assistant manager of the state's bilingual-education office, said the opinion could prompt some districts to adopt bilingual-teaching standards less rigorous than the state requirements and thus pave the way for inconsistencies between districts.

Credentialed teachers passed over for jobs, or groups representing students said to be receiving inadequate services, may seek legal remedies, Mr. Dolson said, "if the standards vary significantly or reach a level of ureasonableness."

Benjamin M. Lopez, regional director of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, said the group would monitor such developments as part of a public-education campaign launched after Mr. Deukmejian's veto.

The group is training citizens to monitor bilingual programs for compliance with federal law and to "work with legal service providers to file complaints and lawsuits where necessary," he said.

Cooperation Expected

State officials predict, however, that many districts will adhere to the state teaching standards or adopt equally strong requirements to ensure that l.e.p. students receive adequate services.

"We're not expecting the system to break down," said Deputy Attorney General Rodney O. Lilyquist, who wrote the opinion. "We expect school districts to do their job and provide quality bilingual education.''

Although the state education department endorsed the opinion, said the agency's staff counsel, Allan H. Keown, "we are actually encouraging people to utilize the state standard as the most commonly recognized and easiest way" to assess teachers' competence.

Norman C. Gold, a bilingual-education consultant with the department, said districts would be advised to require the state credential "as a first preference," but would be allowed to submit other criteria, subject to department review.

The state will monitor those standards for compliance with state and federal requirements under a detailed process set up after the bilingual law expired, Mr. Keown said.

Several large school districts are leaning toward requiring the state credential or offering teachers8strong incentives to seek it, according to Sarah Gomez, a state education official on loan as a consultant to the credentialing commission.

Officials of the Los Angeles Unfied School District, for example, plan to recommend that the school board adopt pay differentials for teachers who meet the state's bilingual-certification requirements or achieve the highest level of fluency on a local test, said Richard K. Mason, special counsel to the district's superintendent.

Meanwhile, members of the Los Angeles teachers' union are arguing that the attorney general's opinion provides support for their position on the district's controversial "waiver" policy for monolingual teachers of l.e.p. students.

The district has thus far maintained that policy, despite the relaxation of state requirements.

The union maintains that teachers should not be reassigned for failing to sign waivers agreeing to learn a second language at their own expense within seven years.

Catherine Carey, director of communications for United Teachers-Los Angeles, noted that the union's vote last summer to oppose the district's transitional-bilingual-education program largely reflected dissatisfaction with the waiver policy. (See Education Week, Sept. 9, 1987.)

Reauthorization Moves Eyed

Mr. Mastain of the credentialing commission noted that the opinion's effect on prospective candidates would become clearer later this month and in June, when the panel administers its bilingual-certification exam.

Meanwhile, advocates are mapping out a strategy to reintroduce legislation extending the bilingual-education law.

To put more pressure on the Governor to approve the bill, proponents are considering refashioning a version of the measure that passed in one house last year to include special-education, adult-education, and gifted-and-talented programs due to expire this June.

Mr. Deukmejian's view is that it is "outrageous to hold those programs hostage" to the bilingual-education bill, Peter G. Mehas, the Governor's chief education aide, said last week.

However, he added, "we have not seen any substantial changes that would warrant any change in the Governor's veto message."

Vol. 07, Issue 25

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