By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
A: You have to be more specific. Which tests do you mean?
Q: Tests to see how the redesignated kids are doing?
A: I can’t talk about that. I’d have to make sure that I can talk about these things.
In the end, the data made available by the district does not necessarily prove what it is purported to. Take the results of an internal study released with some fanfare in March. District analysts announced that students in native-language programs had higher test scores in English than similar students who’d learned in English. The study compared students who’d been in the same school from kindergarten through fifth grade, identifying 8,393 students whose course work was mainly in Spanish and 3,630 students with classes mainly in English. Sure enough, those in the English-language classes had fared worse. Or had they?
In its analysis of the test scores, the school district absolutely excluded 56 percent of the students in the Spanish-language-based program and 37 percent of those in the English program. Why? Because the district decided to omit students who are not fluent in English. Thus, after six years in the district’s primary bilingual program, more than half of its students aren’t fluent enough to take an achievement test in English. By that parameter, the students in English-language classes did better, but their performance was hardly comforting.
Even if you accept the district’s positive spin on the selected test scores themselves, a glaring reality emerges, noted L.A. teachers union president Day Higuchi. "We’re talking about kids in bilingual education doing a little better than kids in English-only programs. Wait a minute. We’re talking about picky points of difference. All the kids are at least 20 percentage points below national norms. The truth is that they’re all doing miserably except the kids who are tracked to go to college. And that gap is getting bigger."
ll told, it’s hard to imagine Proposition 227 losing when polling shows the measure solidly favored by both Anglos and Latinos. Even L.A. teachers, who, by logic, would support the system in which they work, are deeply divided. In a November referendum, teachers opposed Proposition 227 by only a 52 percent to 48 percent margin.
There are some alternatives. The Legislature finally passed a bill allowing school districts flexibility to design local bilingual programs. The bill also established some performance standards. That could have helped, except that Governor Pete Wilson vetoed the bill, then also announced his endorsement of Proposition 227.
Despite that, a movement to set achievement standards continues to slowly gain steam, though it’s way too soon to measure its impact. Locally, L.A. Unified softened the success penalty for English fluency by providing, for the first time, a financial reward to schools that create fluent English speakers. And some of the bilingual-ed programs at L.A. Unified show promise.
Proposition 227, on the other hand, would re-create the same kind of harmful rigidity that has defined the state program. And no research offers support for the idea that in one year, children can learn all the English they need to succeed in school.
The truth is that the problem was never bilingual education alone, but an entire education system that hasn’t delivered. The obvious remedies include well-managed, accountable programs run by talented, inspired teachers — whether the emphasis be on English immersion, native language or, for that matter, Transylvanian falconry. Nevertheless, on June 2, voters are likely to make bilingual education the scapegoat of the moment, and enlist the state in a new education nightmare.
Researchers Jade Chang and Greg Brown contributed to this story.
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