Bilingual ed: Will parents get to choose?

Alice Callaghan runs an English-only preschool at Las Familias Del Pueblos in Los Angeles. Photo:  Morgan Walker/NPR

California voters are expected to “bring back” bilingual education, nearly two decades after the “English for the Children” initiative, Proposition 227, won in a landslide.

Proposition 58 has flown completely under the radar. Because of the ballot language says the goal is English proficiency (everybody likes that!), voters may not realize their voting for teaching English by teaching Spanish and other languages.

California never banned bilingual ed, but Proposition 227 required that parents sign a waiver each year if they want their child taught in a language other than English. Most immigrant parents did not.

As a result, schools had to dump low-quality, dumbed-down bilingual ed and design programs that parents would choose. Double-immersion programs are very popular with middle-class, English-speaking parents who want their kids to be multilingual.

If Proposition 58 passes, will educators try to force Latino kids into Spanish-language classes without parental consent? Will they try to teach with aides — very, very common in the old days — when they can’t find enough bilingual teachers? (Bilingual teachers remain in short supply.) They’d be crazy to go back to the old system. I think they’re smarter than that. I hope.

Arizona vs. accents, ethnic studies

Arizona teachers who speak English with a strong accent or poor grammar won’t be allowed to teach classes for English Language Learners, the state education department has ruled. The decision primarily will affect elementary teachers recruited from Latin America to staff bilingual classes. When Arizona voters ended bilingual education in 2000, teachers were told to use English only. But some aren’t able to speak fluently or model good English, state officials complain. From the Wall Street Journal:

The education department has dispatched evaluators to audit teachers across the state on things such as comprehensible pronunciation, correct grammar and good writing.

Teachers will be given time to improve their English, but those who can’t meet the state auditors’ standard must be reassigned to mainstream classes or fired, says a state education official.

. . . Nearly half the teachers at Creighton, a K-8 school in a Hispanic neighborhood of Phoenix, are native Spanish speakers. State auditors have reported to the district that some teachers pronounce words such as violet as “biolet,” think as “tink” and swallow the ending sounds of words, as they sometimes do in Spanish.

Creighton’s principal says her foreign-born teachers are dedicated, experienced and understand the students’ culture. There aren’t enough mainstream early elementary classes for teachers with accents, unless they can teach higher grades. The school — nearly all Hispanic and all poor — is rated “performing plus” by the state. By middle school, students are catching up to state averages, especially in math.

In other Arizona news, a bill designed to ban ethnic studies classes has reached the governor’s desk, reports the Arizona Republic. State Superintendent Tom Horne, a candidate for attorney general, wrote the bill to abolish classes that:

• Promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.

• Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.

• Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.

• Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals.

Horne is targeting Tucson’s La Raza studies class, saying it’s “aimed primarily at members of one race, and we have testimony that this has promoted resentment.” He said students could be exposed to various cultures and traditions in social studies classes.

Tucson school officials say there’s nothing in their curriculum that would run afoul of the bill’s provisions. “In no way do we teach the resentment of any particular group of people,” said Sean Arce, director of the Mexican-American studies department in the Tucson district.

The district integrates Mexican-American studies into its offerings, from kindergarten through high school.  

Oh, and there’s that law about illegal aliens. Arizona’s new moniker: The Grand Ban ‘Em State.