Two former California governors — one very Republican and the other very Democratic — are defending the idea that all children can meet high academic standards.
Former Govs. Pete Wilson and Gray Davis, in a rare show of bipartisan concern over the direction of public education in California, sent an open letter Friday to lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urging them not to retreat from tough curriculum standards and testing they say have improved academic performance.
Some Democratic legislators want a separate K-8 curriculum for students who aren’t fluent in English. The old bilingual lobby doesn’t believe Hispanic children can learn in English. When the state board of education refused to go along, Democratic critics took all funding for the board out of the state budget. Wilson and Davis wrote:
“Standards provide a measure of excellence regardless of one’s skin color, family income or ZIP code. We believe that if we set expectations high, students will respond,” the two men wrote. “Not every child will fully meet the challenge, but all will benefit from the effort.”
Lowering or weakening academic standards would create “educational apartheid,” they wrote.
One of the worst things about bilingual classes — now a rarity — was the tendency to expect less of students. Scores have been rising for English Learners and for Hispanic students under the current state guidelines, which provide extra time for elementary students who aren’t fluent to learn English, in addition to two hours a day of language arts instruction.
Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Whittier, who introduced the separate-but-unequal bill, gave Gov. Schwarzenegger a copy of “Don Quixote” in Spanish.
The governor said he would need a translator, Escutia recalled.
“How do you think a kid feels when they’re dropped in a classroom and told to read ‘Tom Sawyer,’ and you’ll be tested in two weeks?” she said she replied.
A spokeswoman for the governor pointed out that he learned English by immersion as an immigrant to the U.S.
Update: In the Sacramento Bee, Peter Schrag comments on Gov. Schwarzenegger’s attempt to play nice with the resegregationist legislators, leaving the state board without a dime. Schrag notes that English Learners are achieving English proficiency more quickly than in the old days of separate bilingual instruction.