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.

Bilingual ed measure touts ‘English proficiency’

Kindergartener Maximilian Krendzelak answers teacher Marisol Alarcon at River Glen, a dual-immersion K-8 school in San Jose. Students learn primarily in Spanish in the early grades. Photo: Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group

California’s Proposition 58, which promises to “ensure all students can achieve English proficiency as soon as possible,” is leading in the polls — until voters realize it would bring back bilingual education, reports Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News.

Sixty-nine percent of likely voters backed Proposition 58 when read the ballot title and summary, according to the online Field-IGS Poll.

When pollsters revealed that the “English proficiency multilingual education” initiative would repeal key portions of Proposition 227, which limited bilingual education, 30 percent said they’d vote yes, 51 percent were opposed and 19 percent undecided.

In 1998, Proposition 227 passed with 61 percent support at the polls. It required that English Learners be taught primarily in English, unless their parents sign waivers requesting bilingual education.

Without any context, “people see the “English proficiency” label and think that’s what the initiative supports, said Jack Citrin, director of the UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, a partner in the poll with the Field Research Corp. “When you tell them it repeals a key portion of Proposition 227, also intended to create English proficiency, they change their tune,” Citrin said.

I’m not sure how much will change if Proposition 58 passes. Bilingual ed hasn’t vanished: Dual immersion is popular, especially with middle-class English-speaking parents.

Students could be placed in bilingual classes without parental waivers, but parents are supposed to be able to get English instruction on demand.

In the pre-227 days, bilingual ed was done badly much of the time: Spanish-speaking aides taught the neediest kids (there weren’t enough bilingual teachers), the curriculum was dumbed down and expectations were low. Nobody wants to go back to that.

Core math doesn’t add up in California

California’s Common Core math standards are less rigorous than the state’s old standards, writes Wayne Bishop, a Cal State LA math professor, in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

The old standards, released in 1997, were written by Stanford math professors who wanted eighth graders — not just the private school kids — to learn algebra, he writes. The new standards stress verbal skills.

. . . the new test requires students to answer follow-up questions and perform a task that shows their research and problem-solving skills. . . . Any student with weak reading and writing skills is unfairly assessed. That is especially problematic for English learners.

Common Core reflects the belief that “mathematics is best learned through students’ exploration of lengthy ‘real world’ problems rather than the artificial setting of a competent teacher teaching a concept followed by straightforward applications thereof,” writes Bishop. In reality, “traditional (albeit contrived) word problems lead to better retention and use of the mathematics involved.”

In addition, Common Core “expects students to use nonstandard arithmetic algorithms . . .  in place of the familiar ones; e.g., borrow/carry in subtraction/addition and vertical multiplication with its place-value shift with successive digits,” writes Bishop.

He recommends Stephen Colbert’s “delightful derision” of Core confusion.

Complexificating school evaluation

California’s proposed new evaluation system will use a colors — lots of colors — to evaluate schools by lots of factors, reports the Orange County Register.

The old Academic Performance Index, suspended in March 2015,  generated a single number based on test scores:  800 was the goal. Schools could be compared against schools with similar demographics. Parents could see how a school’s API score changed over time or check performance by subgroups.

The color-coded California Model shows boxes for test scores, attendance, dropout rates, English proficiency, access to advanced classes in high school, parent involvement, suspension rates and more.

The API may have been “simplistic,” the new system is so complicated it’s incomprehensible, editorializes the Los Angeles Times.

There’s a series of colored boxes, with the colors designed to reflect both the school’s actual performance on a given measurement — such as how many students are suspended or what surveys say about the school’s atmosphere — and whether that performance is getting a little better or a lot better or …

There are nine different categories for measuring schools, with only one of those being how its students scored on the standards tests. Others include “basics” (such as having adequate textbooks and facilities) and “implementation of academic standards.” Each category is ranked by how high a priority it is for that particular school. And each category has two colored boxes. And there are six possible colors for each box.

In addition, there are extra boxes for “equity reports” on subgroups such as Latino, black and low-income students.

Do-it-yourself history: Hindus vs. Muslims

California’s Board of Education has adopted new social studies guidelines that “stress teaching critical thinking and objective inquiry so that students can determine historical truths for themselves,” writes John Fensterwald on EdSource.

Oh, yeah. That’ll work.

“We are not the arbiter of historical debate,” said State Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Adams.

Hindus and Muslims don't agree on how California schools should teach about India's history.

California’s social studies guidelines will retain a reference to India’s caste system, despite protests by Hindus, but the reference to forced conversion to Islam has been softened.

The board has been under heavy pressure from immigrants from India, most of whom don’t want any mention of the caste system, and Muslims, who “criticized a reference to forced conversion by Islamic rulers on the Indian subcontinent centuries ago,” writes Fensterwald.

Mentioning the Japanese abuse of Korean “comfort women” during World War II also was controversial.

The Legislature has mandated teaching “financial literacy, Filipino-American contributions to the labor movement and World War II, the Armenian Genocide, President Barack Obama, and voter education,” he reports. “The FAIR Education Act requires the inclusion of lesbian, gay and transgender history and key figures.”

And, of course, “the framework stresses the importance of incorporating diverse historical perspectives of Hispanics, Native Americans and other ethnic groups.”

Unions win on dues, may lose on tenure

Unions breathed a sigh of relief when the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition in to rehear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, reports Louis Freedberg on EdSource. The court had issued a 4-4-opinion in March upholding mandatory “agency fees” for non-union members.

“If the plaintiffs – Rebecca Friedrichs and nine other California teachers – had won, it could have inflicted a potentially devastating financial blow against the CTA, and by extension all public employee unions,” writes Freedberg.

Plaintiffs will have to file a new lawsuit in a lower court to get back to the Supreme Court.

Unions won a victory in April in Vergara v. California, a 2012 lawsuit that challenged the state’s teacher-tenure laws. However, copycat cases in New York and Minnesota “have a much better chance of success,” writes Joshua Dunn, a political science professor at University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. in Education Next.

. . . the Vergara plaintiffs concocted a clever but dubious constitutional rationale against the tenure laws. They contended that California’s brief 18-month window for awarding tenure, onerous teacher- dismissal policies, and last-in, first-out requirements adversely affected minority students. This alleged “disparate impact,” they claimed, violated the state constitution’s equal protection clause. The unions suffered an embarrassing defeat when the plaintiffs won at trial—but the judge’s ruling was heavy on political rhetoric and light on legal reasoning (see “Script Doctors,” legal beat, fall 2014).

A California appellate court overturned the trial judge because “the plaintiffs only showed that the teacher- tenure protections potentially harmed all students,” not just minority students, writes Dunn.

In New York and Minnesota, plaintiffs are using the strategy pushed by teachers’ unions in suits challenging the adequacy of education funding, he writes. In New York, they have to show “the policies deprive some students of a sound basic education,” he writes, while the Minnesota suit relies on the state’s guarantee of a “thorough and uniform” education.

California court overturns Vergara ruling

The Vergara ruling, which threatened teacher tenure, seniority and other employment laws, was overturned today by the California Appeals Court on a unanimous vote, reports Mike Szymanski in LA School Report.

The three-judge panel reversed Vergara v. California, finding that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that minority students were subjected more to ineffective teachers than others.

“Plaintiffs elected not to target local administrative decisions and instead opted to challenge the statutes themselves,” the decision states. “This was a heavy burden and one plaintiffs did not carry.”

The trial evidence “revealed deplorable staffing decisions being made by some local administrators that have a deleterious impact on poor and minority students in California’s public schools,” the decision concedes. However, “the evidence did not show that the challenged statutes inevitably cause this impact.”

Raylene Monterroza is one of the student plaintiffs in Vergara v. California.

Raylene Monterroza is one of the student plaintiffs in Vergara v. California.

StudentsMatter, which represents the nine student plaintiffs, plans to appeal to the California Supreme Court.

A Vergara-like lawsuit filed yesterday charges that Minnesota laws on teacher tenure and dismissal violate children’s right to a quality education, reports The 74. Partnership for Educational Justice, a nonprofit founded by The 74 editor-in-chief Campbell Brown, is working with Students for Education Reform Minnesota on the lawsuit.

Partnership for Educational Justice also is challenging tenure protections in Wright v. New York, which is before the New York Supreme Court.

We need hard data on soft skills

California’s nine CORE districts, which include Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, are researching the link between students’ social and emotional skills, such as perseverance, confidence and collaboration, and academic achievement, writes John Fensterwald on EdSource. Rating schools by students’ social-emotional skills — as measured by student surveys — is the next, very controversial step.

A sixth grade student at Oak Ridge Elementary in Sacramento writes into a "gratitude journal," identifying one thing each day that he is grateful for.

A sixth-grade student at Sacramento’s Oak Ridge Elementary writes in a “gratitude journal.”

The experiment is worth pursuing, writes Martin West, a Harvard education professor and Brookings fellow.

Some CORE districts, including San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento City, are trying to integrate teaching social-emotional skills into their curriculums and classroom activities, writes Fensterwald.

The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), requires states to include at least one non-academic indicator of school or student success.

CORE’s surveys of four social-emotional skills — self-management, growth mindset, self-efficacy and social awareness — are valid predictors of academic achievement, West concludes. (The statistical reliability is not as strong for third and fourth graders.)

Middle schoolers’ self-ratings in social-emotional skills correlated with their schools’ math and English test scores, rates of suspension and absenteeism and students’ grade point averages, the study found. Self-management skills showed the strongest link.

Social-emotional factors will count only for 8 percent of CORE’s new School Quality Improvement Index, which CORE introduced this year without including the social-emotional survey ratings. That will came next fall.

CORE’s hope is that schools with high ratings will share what they do well, and schools with low ratings, particularly with subgroups of struggling students, will change instructional approaches. But many researchers remain skeptical of including soft, potentially manipulable measures for school accountability.

Using social-emotional skills ratings in a high-stakes setting — or even a low-stakes setting — could be problematic, West acknowledges. But he thinks the CORE experiment is “an enormous learning opportunity.”

Back to bilingual? Unz fights for English


Ron Unz led the fight against bilingual education in California public schools in 1998.

Ron Unz, the software entrepreneur who rolled back bilingual education in the late ’90s, has entered the U.S. Senate race in California.

He’s not in it to win. He’s running to defend his 1998  “English for the Children” initiative, which required schools to teach in English unless parents request a bilingual program. The Multilingual Education Act on the November ballot would repeal most of Unz’s initiative and bring back what he calls “the disastrously unsuccessful system of Spanish-almost-only ‘bilingual education’ in California public schools.” It’s received little attention.

Unz has created a Keep English for the Children website, he writes in a post titled Is the Republican Party too stupid to survive?

Old-style bilingual education has few defenders in California, I found in writing Learning English for Education Next.

What matters for English Learners is the quality of instruction — not the language of instruction — researchers have found. Quality was low before 1998, even bilingual ed defenders concede.

“In the old model, expectations were very low,” confirms Veronica Aguilar, director of English learner support in the California Department of Education.

. . . “When I was a bilingual teacher, there wasn’t enough rigor,” recalls Frances Teso, who taught in a San Jose elementary school before founding a charter school. “We called it the Pobrecito Syndrome. ‘Those poor kids, their parents aren’t educated. They have so many problems.’ It’s true, but what can we do here at school about it?”

. . . Since bilingual teachers were in short supply, schools often hired aides to teach in Spanish or imported teachers from Spanish-speaking countries who spoke little English. “We never had the teachers to pull off bilingual education,” says Michael Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education and a Stanford education professor emeritus.

Unz’s anti-bilingual revolt spread to other states. From 1993 to 2003 the proportion of English Learners receiving “some” or “significant” native-language instruction decreased from 53 percent to 29 percent, according to federal data.

These days, double immersion programs are rising in popularity. The children of middle-class, English-speaking parents learn a second language while children from immigrant families learn English. It’s usually done well. Middle-class parents won’t accept a dumbed-down curriculum or unqualified teachers.

Before the Unz initiative, 30 percent of California’s English Learners — a majority of those in elementary school — were in bilingual classes. That’s down to nine percent. All are there by choice.

Aguilar, who runs the state’s English Learner programs, told me she supports the Multilingual Education Act because it would be easier for schools to place students in bilingual classes without the hassle of getting immigrant parents to sign waivers. That bothered me.

California stops rating schools by proficiency

California is previewing the new education bill’s shift from federal to state accountability, writes Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News. Thanks to a No Child Left Behind waiver granted in June, schools are graded on attendance, graduation rates (“inflated by the demise of the exit exam”) and test participation, rather than by English and math proficency. The pressure is off.

For more than a decade, the release of federal scores indicating California public school students’ progress — or lack of it — has incited alarm, anxiety and anguish among educators.

 But when those marks were ever so quietly posted this month, barely anyone noticed. And it seemed few cared. For the first time in years, California schools met federal standards — but only because the yardstick had been replaced with an easier-to-meet measurement.
Some schools were freed from “Program Improvement” status, despite low achievement scores.

Statewide, only 44 percent of California students tested proficient in English, and 33 percent proficient in math.

Program Improvement “doesn’t have the importance it once did,” said Dorothy Abreu-Coito, director of instructional services in the Sunnyvale School District. “We have to jump through a few hoops.”

Ironically, high-performing Palo Alto High failed because too many 11th graders refused to take state standardized tests.

“Some fear that without federally mandated high expectations and demands for transparency, schools will continue to fail poor and minority children, the intended beneficiaries of No Child Left Behind,” writes Noguchi.

“Much of the pushback to NCLB came because the law actually succeeded, in part, at doing what it was intended to do: identify and intervene in schools that were not helping students achieve overall, as well as those with large disparities in outcomes among different student subgroups, and bring urgency to the need to improve,” writes Melissa Tooley in The Atlantic.  “Under ESSA, it’s no more likely that schools will know how to improve.”