Special Report
English-Language Learners

California Program Grapples With Problems, Scores Successes

By James Crawford — April 01, 1987 28 min read
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Bilingual education faces an uncertain future in California. While the state can claim some of the nation’s most successful bilingual-education programs, it has also produced some of the best-organized opponents of bilingualism.

California law currently guarantees rights and opportunities for limited-English-proficient students that are unequaled in other states, bilingual educators agree. In practice, however, the training of bilingual teachers has not kept pace with the growth in the LEP population, which has more than doubled over the past decade. As a result, educators say, the quality of instruction is substandard in many programs, and eligible children frequently go unserved.

The state’s bilingual-education statute is set to expire on June 30, and Gov. George Deukmejian has already vetoed one attempt to extend it. Legislative critics of the program have thus far failed to impose radical changes, but they appear to have more than enough votes to block its reauthorization this year. And resistance appears to have stiffened following the overwhelming approval last November of Proposition 63, a constitutional amendment declaring English the official language of California.

New waves of immigrants since the mid-1970’s have had an impact on schools in many American communities, but nowhere has it been greater than in California. Vietnamese “boat people,’' rural Mexicans, affluent Taiwanese, Cambodian and Central American refugees, Filipinos, Koreans, Iranians, and Afghans have all found the state a good place to settle. Nearly one-quarter of immigrants to the United States in 1981 wound up in California.

In 1970, non-Hispanic whites made up 78 percent of California’s population; Hispanics, 12 percent; blacks, 7 percent; and Asians, 3 percent, according to the state legislature’s Assembly Office of Research. By 1985, the proportion of Hispanics and Asians had mushroomed to 21 percent and 8 percent, respectively; whites had declined to 63 percent, and blacks had increased slightly, to 8 percent.

Because of high birth rates, civil unrest, and debt crises in the countries of origin, no letup in the influx of immigrants, legal or illegal, is foreseen, experts say. Mexico, California’s economically troubled neighbor, may see a doubling in its population, from 70 million in 1980 to 140 million in the year 2000, according to some estimates.

By the year 2018, California is projected to become the first “majority minority’’ state. And because the state’s immigrants and other minorities are younger than the white population on average, their influence will be felt sooner in the schools. In the year 2000, minority children are expected to make up 52 percent of the school population, and limited-English-proficient children at least 15 percent.

The California State Department of Education keeps careful track of such demographic patterns in the schools through an annual language census. Its most recent count, in the spring of 1986, showed that the number of LEP students had more than doubled since 1977--from 233,444 to 567,564. Nearly three-quarters of those students were concentrated in the five counties of Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Santa Clara, and San Francisco.

Responding to Change

In the Alhambra School District in the eastern suburbs of Los Angeles, administrators had no choice but to respond to these demographic changes. Substantial numbers of Hispanics began arriving in the district about 20 years ago, and by the mid-1970’s, Spanish-speaking children made up 30 percent of the district’s enrollment. Also, there were smaller groups of Chinese immigrants, largely in the town of Monterey Park.

But despite a growing population of LEP students, when the district was investigated by the federal office for civil rights in 1977, the only language services being provided were sporadic classes in English as a second language.

The OCR determined that Alhambra was failing to meet its obligations under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Lau v. Nichols decision. Federal investigators found the district was doing little to remedy a situation where, in the words of the Court, “students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education.’'

In response, school officials agreed to set up a small bilingual-education program. Suanna G. Ponce, the district’s bilingual coordinator, recalls that, under the first year of Alhambra’s “Lau plan,’' in September 1977, there were 14 classrooms for Spanish-speaking children.

To accommodate an influx of immigrants from Taiwan and Hong Kong, a Chinese-language program was added the following year, and in 1980, it was divided into Cantonese and Mandarin classrooms. By 1982, there were enough Vietnamese children with limited English skills to start instruction in that language.

Today, Alhambra’s bilingual-education program has grown to 120 classrooms, largely because “the Asian population has increased immensely,’' Ms. Ponce says. In 1985-86, Asian students made up 49 percent of the district’s enrollment, and Hispanics about 35 percent; in all, 80 language groups were represented. Outside the four bilingual programs, children receive individualized attention, including ESL instruction and, where possible, assistance in their native languages.

A medium-sized district of 20,000 students, Alhambra has made a substantial financial commitment to recruit and train bilingual teachers, to purchase and develop native-language materials, and to hire instructional aides for every bilingual classroom (something that is not required by law). All teachers in the district must complete 35 hours of ESL training, freeing 13 ESL “pullout teachers’’ to deal with the most difficult cases. And Alhambra employs a managerial staff of nine to coordinate the program, compared with just one or two in many similar-sized districts.

While the OCR provided the catalyst for Alhambra’s commitment to serving LEP children, the change was accomplished largely with the district’s own funds. Although its bilingual-education program received federal assistance under Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act until last year, “it was always very supplemental in nature,’' Ms. Ponce says.

Bilingual Law

Perhaps as important as the federal intervention was California’s new bilingual-education law, the Chacon-Moscone Bilingual-Bicultural Education Act of 1976. As amended in 1981, it provides the most detailed blueprint for serving the needs of LEP children yet enacted by state or federal governments.

The law’s most salient feature is its mandate for bilingual instruction wherever practical at the elementary-school level. Bilingual classrooms must be established in schools where there are at least 10 LEP children of the same language group at the same grade level. In other situations, each LEP student must have an “individualized learning program’’ that features at least 20 minutes a day of special language instruction.

Although the number of state-approved experiments is limited each year, districts have some flexibility to try other program options, including English immersion. Also, the law authorizes bilingual-maintenance programs and “two way’’ bilingual instruction--in which English-speaking children learn a second language--but these options are relatively rare. Although bilingual classrooms are not required in grades 7-12, students must be placed in “individualized language programs’’ or “language development’’ classes.

To avoid language segregation, the law requires that at least one-third of the students in bilingual classrooms be fluent English-speakers. Schools must identify students’ native languages upon their enrollment and assess language-minority children’s oral English proficiency before placing them in bilingual or regular programs. Parents have the right to insist on English-only classrooms for their children. And standards for reclassifying LEP students are mandated.

In addition, the law sets strict certification requirements for bilingual teachers, who must qualify in three competencies: a second language, culture, and methodology. Recognizing the current shortage of qualified teachers, the law allows districts to staff bilingual classrooms with those who have signed “waivers,’' or agreements to take language and other courses toward certification. In such classrooms, instructional aides must be provided.

‘Sunset’ Review

How well is the 10-year-old law working? To answer that question, Governor Deukmejian appointed a “Sunset Advisory Committee’’ to review bilingual education in California before the legislature took up the issue of reauthorization last year. After extensive hearings and school visits, the panel concluded, “When the law and regulations are properly implemented, the programs appear to be effective.’'

Flexibility for school districts is one of the law’s strengths, the committee found. Although critics sometimes evoke the specter of districts having to provide school services in scores of languages, the reality is that most language groups are too small to trigger bilingual classrooms. In the Los Angeles schools, where at least 79 tongues are represented, bilingual instruction is offered in 6: Spanish, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Korean, Filipino, and Armenian.

“The benefits of the bilingual program are many and varied,’' the advisory report continued. “The program enables students to develop cognitive skills in their primary language while acquiring English. Producing bilingual citizens is an economic and employment strength. Other benefits may include sustained academic achievement, lowering of the dropout rate, smoother cultural adjustment, and greater parental support.’'

But the committee also identified significant weaknesses. The “individualized language programs,’' which serve the 39 percent of elementary-school students who are not in bilingual classrooms, as well as 75 percent of secondary-school students, “are generally regarded as inadequate,’' the report said. Districts have the discretion to do as much, or as little, for these students as they choose.

A lack of guidelines, instructional materials, and resources made bilingual education ineffective at the secondary level, the panel added, suggesting that strengthening the program might reverse “alarming dropout rates’’ in California high schools.

State categorical grants had failed to keep pace with districts’ needs as the LEP population increased, the report said, especially for financing teacher training and incentive pay. According to the state education department, approximately $100- million, or about 3 percent of California’s total spending for education, goes to programs for LEP students each year. That amount in 1986-87 includes federal subsidies of $26.2 million under Title VII and $13.9 million under the federal emergency immigrant-education program.

Teacher Shortage

The bilingual program’s biggest weakness by far, according to both critics and supporters, is the difficulty districts have in recruiting enough qualified teachers for bilingual classrooms. Only about 25 percent of the LEP children in California elementary schools are taught by a teacher who is fluent in their native language. That means that aides--usually with minimal training--are responsible for the bulk of instruction, and especially for teaching children to read.

Last year, 8,020 of California’s 14,350 bilingual teachers, both elementary and secondary, were certified; the rest were on waivers. By 1990, the Assembly’s research office estimates, the state will have only 12,000 of the 23,000 certified teachers that it will need.

The Sunset Advisory Committee urged the legislature to provide financial incentives for teachers to acquire the extra competencies necessary for bilingual certification. Pay decisions are now left up to individual school districts, and practices vary considerably. Some districts pay for teachers’ language courses and count academic credits toward raises; others do neither. Stipends for acquiring bilingual certification, where they exist, are usually modest. In fact, because bilingual teachers are usually newer to the field, their salaries are below average--$25,912 in 1984-85, compared with the statewide median of $27,030.

Current law actually provides a disincentive to waivered teachers’ becoming certified, says Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, a teacher trainer in the Los Angeles County Department of Education. “Once you become bilingual and pass your certification, you lose your aide, your help in the classroom. It’s a Catch-22.’'

The advisory panel agreed that few waivered teachers were making progress toward becoming certified during the six-year period allowed. In 1984-85, only 6 percent of those who took the bilingual-certification examination passed all three sections.

For English-speaking teachers in mid-career, the prospect of being forced to learn Spanish--or Vietnamese, Khmer, or some other “exotic’’ language--has been extremely unpopular. This provision of the law, more than any other, has fueled opposition to bilingual education in the California legislature.

Assemblyman Frank Hill, a leader of Republican critics, calls the provision “job blackmail.’' Mr. Hill has introduced a bill that would eliminate the bilingual waivers, along with the requirement for bilingual classrooms.

Even strong supporters of the current law question whether the waiver system will solve the bilingual-teacher shortage. In Alhambra, teachers who have studied Vietnamese for two years still have nowhere near the proficiency they need for classroom teaching, according to Ms. Ponce.

“We are not pushing for fluency at this point,’' she says. “But it’s very important for them to have an acquaintance with the language, so that they can say a few basic phrases, put the children at ease, and also understand the structure of that language, because if you know the syntax of Vietnamese, you can remedy mistakes in English.’'

On the other hand, Alhambra has been successful in recruiting fluent Spanish- and Chinese-speaking teachers, Ms. Ponce says, and less than one-third of its 120 bilingual classrooms are now staffed by teachers on waiver. Few districts have been so fortunate.

“There’s no way my teachers are going to become proficient in Spanish,’' says Jean Nelson, principal of Geddes Elementary School in Baldwin Park. “So if you hit them with the fact that they’re going to have to learn Spanish right off the bat, you’re not going to get anywhere in my district.’'

Reliance on Aides

At Ms. Nelson’s school, only 2 of the 14 bilingual teachers are certified. But Baldwin Park has proven that bilingual programs can work even with such a handicap, Ms. Nelson says, pointing to former LEP students who are scoring at or above state norms by 5th grade. Her approach has been to give special training and support to instructional aides, relieving them from recess duty, for example, so they can meet with teachers to discuss classroom problems.

While acknowledging the success of Baldwin Park’s program, Norman C. Gold of the state’s bilingual-education office says: “This is a solution which makes us uneasy. There are competent instructional aides who are getting instructional aides’ salaries, who by all respects are credentialable teachers except for a couple of rules they can’t pass.’'

For such aides, who come largely from language-minority backgrounds, the main obstacle is the California Basic Education Skills Test, a reform-movement innovation that all new teachers must pass. Critics argue that the unrealistic level of English proficiency required by the test has dried up natural sources of bilingual teachers--native speakers of minority languages and many competent educators from other countries. Among students who had completed teacher training in 1984-85, only 46 percent of Hispanics and 56 percent of Asians were able to pass the examination.

While Spanish-background students constitute 53 percent of the school population in Los Angeles, “only 10 percent of the teachers [come] from that ethnic group,’' says Concepcion M. Valadez of the Center for Language Education and Research. Consequently, most bilingual teachers must learn Spanish as a second language, she says. “In Los Angeles, it is possible for a limited-English-speaking child to go [through] the six years of elementary school and never be taught by a fully credentialed teacher.’'

Barely 15 percent of Hispanic high-school graduates were even eligible for admission to California’s two university systems that year, “and only a fraction of those actually enrolled,’' according to the Assembly’s research office.

Overall, the state schools of education appear to have given little emphasis to training bilingual teachers. They produced just 458 candidates for bilingual credentials in 1985-86, including 14 in the prestigious University of California system.

Ms. Spiegel-Coleman of the Los Angeles County Department of Education says she finds it frustrating that the colleges are still turning out large numbers of teachers destined to start their careers on bilingual waivers.

“The reality is,’' she says, “everybody sitting in the regular teacher-training program is going to find himself in a bilingual classroom, because those are the classrooms that are open. New teachers are not placed in the ‘better’ schools--if you’re in a system long enough, you transfer there. The openings are in the minority community, and in our county, the largest minority community is the one that doesn’t speak English.’'

Two years ago, the legislature passed a bill requiring the state’s colleges to train teacher candidates in ESL approaches and in ways of working with students from minority-language backgrounds, but it was vetoed by Governor Deukmejian.

Trying To Cope

Los Angeles, with the state’s largest LEP enrollment--160,000 this year--lacks even sufficient numbers of waivered teachers to staff its bilingual classrooms. Last year, only 58,773 of the more than 111,000 LEP children in the district’s elementary schools received “a truly bilingual program’’ with a certified or waivered teacher, according to Carmen Schroeder of the district’s bilingual-education office; 29,228 students received instruction under an “individualized language program,’' and 23,210 received no services.

To compensate for the teacher shortage, the district is trying to upgrade the skills of its 7,000 paraprofessionals. Ideally, aides should be helping individual students, explains Manuel Ponce, director of the aide-training program, but about half are providing direct classroom instruction.

“Many of these people do bring with them a number of skills--the culture, the knowledge of the community, the language to help the child understand what’s going on in the classroom,’' he says. “By systematically working with this group’'--coaching them in bilingual strategies and in working cooperatively with waivered teachers--"we can make some strides toward providing quality education.’'

The district is also experimenting with approaches that are designed to make better use of its limited teaching resources. Under a waiver of the state law’s requirement that English-speakers make up at least one-third of a bilingual classroom, the Eastman School in East Los Angeles has concentrated the efforts of certified Spanish bilingual teachers on LEP children by grouping students by language for most lessons.

As part of the “case studies’’ project coordinated by the state education department, Eastman students have posted steady increases in achievement-test scores.

Another organizational model, developed by the Roscoe School in Sun Valley, uses team teaching and, unlike Eastman’s approach, does not require an exemption from the state. More than 80 percent of Roscoe’s students are Hispanic, and 65 percent are classified as LEP, but only 10 of the school’s 17 teachers have bilingual certifications.

Put simply, Roscoe’s solution was to let Spanish-proficient teachers teach Spanish and the waivered teachers teach English, grouped in bilingual, cooperative teams. Each team makes decisions on how to handle individual students’ needs, and “block scheduling’’ maximizes the contribution of each teacher.

Students are divided for a two-hour “language-arts block’’ every morning in their native language, and then for a 45-minute lesson in the second language--ESL for Spanish-speakers and SSL, or Spanish as a second language, for English-speakers. Other subjects are taught in bilingual or English classrooms.

“The teachers found that by cooperative teaching--getting together and saying, ‘I can do this part, but not that part'--they were able to provide the services that were necessary,’' says Toni Marsnik, Roscoe’s former bilingual coordinator, who is now on the district’s bilingual-education staff.

Unlike Eastman, however, Roscoe has put little emphasis on methodology. Some teachers use the “concurrent-translation method’'--in which a teacher simply repeats a lesson in two languages--while others alternate languages on different days. “Teachers will switch and try different things--whatever seems to work,’' according to James Morris, who now oversees the program.

Also in contrast to Eastman, student scores at the Roscoe School have shown no dramatic improvements, perhaps reflecting, Mr. Morris says, a constant influx of new LEP students into the school.

Methodology Matters

In recent years, many researchers have roundly criticized concurrent translation as ineffective and perhaps harmful. Studies of the methodology have shown that LEP children simply learn to ignore the language that they do not understand, and thus receive little “comprehensible input’’ in English. This problem is compounded when the method is combined with ESL techniques based on grammar rather than on intelligible communication.

Worse, according to many researchers, concurrent translation can encourage a type of “code switching’'--a mixing of two languages, such as “Spanglish’'--which retards linguistic development in either tongue.

Nevertheless, concurrent translation and grammar-based ESL are still widely used in bilingual programs, not only in California but throughout the United States.

Many districts in Los Angeles County have dropped these methods in favor of approaches that stress native-language development and communication-based ESL, according to Ms. Spiegel-Coleman, but old ways remain predominant in the city’s schools.

“I think the leadership in L.A. Unified knows that [these methods do not make] a good program,’' she says. “But it hasn’t gotten down to the troops yet. L.A. has a real problem with staff development.’'

In addition to the enormous cost--and logistical difficulties in many year-round schools, where one-quarter of the staff is absent at any time--the district had previously trained thousands of teachers “to do concurrent translation and grammar-based ESL,’' Ms. Spiegel-Coleman says. “Now they have to bring them all back and train them not to. They’re in the process of doing that, but it’s a huge job.’'

Training the Trainers

“In districts that are smaller, it’s easier to get the message out,’' she adds. Since 1980, one strategy for doing so has been the Multidistrict Trainer of Trainers Institute, developed by Margarita Calderon, a professor of education at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Starting with the view that staff development is crucial to effective bilingual programs, the institute concentrates on putting the latest theory and practical knowledge about methods in the hands of district personnel who train bilingual and ESL teachers.

Trainers are schooled in the “theoretical framework’’ developed by the California State Department of Education, featuring sessions by such well-known researchers as Stephen D. Krashen and Tracy D. Terrell, the originators of the “natural approach’’ to ESL Effective instructional techniques are demonstrated, and trainers learn how to coach teachers in the classroom, which is seen as an essential step in initiating the new methods.

The program has had a major effect in districts where improved student achievement has converted skeptics, Ms. Spiegel-Coleman says, and as graduates of the training institute rise to higher leadership positions, the new approaches are becoming firmly established.

Pat Almada, a former bilingual coordinator in the Montebello Unified School District, is one such graduate. Working with principals like John Myers of the Bell Gardens Elementary School, she developed one of Los Angeles County’s most successful programs. A 1985 study of 1,700 6th graders who had completed bilingual education in the district found that their reading skills significantly surpassed their peers in English-only classrooms.

One key to the program’s success, Ms. Almada believes, is staff development that puts “tremendous emphasis’’ on the latest ESL techniques and on developing native-language skills “to assure that when kids went into English basal [readers] they had a strong foundation in difficult words.’'

Ms. Almada stresses the importance of classifying LEP children correctly--not always an easy task. “They tend to fool us sometimes,’' she says, “especially those who have attended an English-only preschool. The surface levels of the language are there. However, their thinking is still in the primary language. If you ask them ‘why’ or ‘how’ questions, they can’t answer. When you put them into an all-English program, they fail miserably.’'

Mr. Myers adds, “If you exit a kid too early, generally the English is not adequate to support the concept level, and he has difficulty in the thinking areas like science and social studies, health, and mathematics.’'

At Bell Gardens, an overwhelming majority of the children are Hispanic and poor, and 80 percent enter kindergarten with limited English proficiency. Students complete the transition to English relatively late--around 4th grade, compared with 2nd grade in many bilingual programs. But by that time, unlike children in “early exit’’ programs, they are able to achieve “at grade level’’ in mainstream classrooms, Mr. Myers says.

As word about Montebello’s program has spread, the district has had little difficulty recruiting certified bilingual teachers, even with limited pay incentives, Ms. Almada says. “Our principals interview maybe five or six for every position they have.’'

Asian Bilingual Programs

Regardless of what language LEP children bring with them to school, says Ms. Ponce, Alhambra’s bilingual coordinator, “strong primary-language skills predict success in English.’' This point has been illustrated among Chinese children in Alhambra, who were the subject of a study two years ago by Edmund W. Lee, director of Alhambra’s orientation and assessment center for new elementary students.

Mr. Lee found that 4th, 5th, and 6th graders who had completed the district’s bilingual program performed as well as, or better than, their English-speaking peers from both Chinese and non-minority backgrounds in reading, and significantly better in language. In mathematics, both groups of Chinese students scored substantially higher than non-minority students.

The results vindicate the state’s 36th-percentile criterion for reclassifying LEP students, Mr. Lee says. While some have argued that the high standard leaves many children to languish “in the LEP category forever, [the study] shows that if we use that as a target point, they really take off afterward.’'

On the other hand, Mr. Lee says, his research undercuts what he says is the stereotype--often invoked by opponents of bilingual education--that Asian students acquire English proficiency rapidly and succeed without special language programs. The Chinese students in Alhambra differed considerably in their achievement, he reports. Cantonese-speakers--largely “ethnic Chinese’’ from Vietnam, who tend to have a low socioeconomic status--performed at lower levels in language and reading than Mandarin-speakers from Taiwan.

The Alhambra district’s Cantonese, Mandarin, and Vietnamese bilingual programs differ from its program for Hispanic children by teaching initial literacy in English rather than the native language.

Asian language skills, unlike those in Spanish, transfer less readily to English because of radical differences in alphabet, Ms. Ponce says, although she acknowledges that this remains a point of controversy among researchers.

Asian children receive pre-reading instruction in their native languages, she explains, along with “an oral-language-development program to continue to develop their vocabularies,’' which speeds their acquisition of English when they encounter the same concepts in the second language.

Children also receive instruction in English as a second language, preferably from their own teacher rather than in “pullout classes,’' Ms. Ponce says.

“The very best kind of ESL is contextual and tied to other learning,’' she says. “It’s only the classroom teacher who can say: ‘I’m doing a unit on dinosaurs in science. For ESL, I’ll build dinosaur vocabulary.’''

The hesitation to teach children to read in Asian languages, however, is not universal.

The ABC Unified School District in nearby Cerritos sponsors a Korean bilingual program that includes native-language literacy, according to Lilia Stapleton, ABC’s bilingual coordinator. And the district hopes eventually to add initial reading in its Chinese program, she says, even though “it’s a much more complex writing system than the Korean.’'

Parent Attitudes

Many children do learn to read in Chinese “Saturday schools,’' Ms. Ponce says, noting that such schools are “a longstanding tradition among Chinese immigrants, even in Vietnam.’' Parents prefer “old-country-style teachers’’ to teach Chinese culture, she adds, and in public school, “they want to maximize the time that children hear English.’'

Initially, Asian parents were apprehensive about bilingual education--indeed, many affluent Chinese settled in the district so their children would learn English--but they came to understand that Alhambra’s schools were “using the primary language as a medium toward that end,’' Ms. Ponce says.

Ms. Stapleton reports a similar process of acceptance for bilingual education in her district. She adds, however, that Asian parents “want their children in and out too quickly. Our challenge is to help the parents ease off and not put so much pressure on their kids.’'

Hispanic parents also have fears about bilingual education, often based on their own bitter personal experiences with learning English, says Pat Almada, the former bilingual coordinator in Montebello.

“Many parents in their late 30’s and early 40’s were severely punished for speaking Spanish in school. They want their kids to have an easier time, and they say, ‘I want only English.’''

But Montebello school officials have usually succeeded in “explaining that their children will have an easier time, not a harder time,’' in bilingual programs, Ms. Almada says. “Out of 8,000 LEP students each year, we have about 100 withdrawals--parents who choose for their children not to participate.’'

In Los Angeles County, bilingual educators report a generally high degree of community support for their programs, in contrast to widespread skepticism a decade ago. Last year, Monterey Park went through a divisive struggle over whether to declare English the town’s official language--a campaign that many Chinese residents saw as a backlash against their increasing numbers. But the controversy had no effect on the Alhambra school board’s support for bilingual education, Ms. Ponce says.

From her vantage point in the county office of education, Ms. Spiegel-Coleman says that district officials who were “adamant about trying to circumvent the law [and] would never ask for help’’ 10 years ago are now asking, “‘What can we do? How can we help our staffs? Can you help us recruit teachers?’''

Pockets of Resistance

Support is more mixed in neighboring Orange County, however, where LEP student enrollment jumped from 23,000 in 1980 to 47,500 last year; in fact, some communities have actively resisted bilingual education.

In Santa Ana, district officials a few years ago decided to turn down federal funds rather than initiate bilingual education, but they backed down when citizens sued, according to Gil Martinez, an assistant superintendent in the Orange County Department of Education.

Today, some Santa Ana teachers--especially those who face the choice of learning a new language or finding another job--have become a center of opposition to the waiver system.

“Most of the districts will do everything they can to be in compliance [with state law]. But there’s a difference between compliance and quality,’' says Martha A. Martini, a bilingual-teacher trainer in the county education department.

Some districts try to ensure that students exit from bilingual programs within one or two years, she says, citing a recent superintendent in the Anaheim city school district who rewarded schools on the basis of their speed in reclassifying LEP children.

At the same time, Ms. Martini says, Orange County has some excellent bilingual programs, especially where schools have participated in the Multidistrict Trainer of Trainers Institute.

This year, Los Angeles Unified launched a “two way’’ model of bilingual instruction, both for educational reasons and as a public-relations gesture, officials say. At the request of upper-middle-class parents in West Los Angeles, the district has enrolled English-speaking children in a Spanish bilingual program, an “additive bilingual’’ model with a goal of teaching them a useful second language.

“In the beginning, we were hesitant to get involved,’' says Carmen Schroeder of the district’s bilingual-education office. “We have such a great need to provide bilingual teachers for LEP kids. But we realized it was a big advantage to have [a Spanish] immersion program, because living in Southern California, it’s really a plus--it’s almost a necessity--to be bilingual.’'

“We believe it will be a wonderful way of joining hands with two very different ethnic groups,’' she adds. “And if the majority of the community understands that to know a second language is to your benefit, that will be a big plus for the bilingual program.’'

A version of this article appeared in the April 01, 1987 edition of Education Week as California Program Grapples With Problems, Scores Successes


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