By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The irony is that dual language was once seen as an antidote for bilingual education, which wasn‘t really bilingual at all. The old, misnamed program typically sought to use instruction in Spanish to move students into all-English classes as soon as possible. In practice, this process could take years, ghettoizing Spanish-speaking students into substandard classes, frequently leaving them undereducated in any language. Prop. 227, by contrast, mandated that English learners be taught almost exclusively in English, though they can receive limited support in another language. Dual language is legal for these students as long as their parents sign waiver forms each year.
Unlike bilingual ed, which had to field all comers, dual language was conceived as accelerated, not remedial. And it’s a two-way deal: Classes are supposed to be half filled with fluent English speakers and half with students whose first language is something else. In reality, even many successful programs are unbalanced. Ivanhoe‘s has predominantly English-speaking Anglo students.
The first dual-language program in Los Angeles began on the Westside in 1990 at Grand View Boulevard Elementary School, where dual language remains stable to this day. But things are not going so well at Mark Twain Middle School, which takes Grand View’s graduates.
“All we get are English texts,” said Twain teacher Julissa V. Gallardo, who coordinates school programs for limited-English speakers. “It‘s difficult to teach students to read and write in Spanish when you don’t have it there in front of them.” Gallardo faults the school district for failing to provide necessary funding and materials. The science teacher, she noted, has had to labor long hours to translate sections of a 500-page science text from English to Spanish.
And forget the notion of an accelerated curriculum. The school backfills empty dual-language seats with recent immigrants, who are often poorly educated. “My algebra class is behind where it should be,” said Gallardo. Dual-language students entered middle school as the cream of the crop, but are now learning algebra at less than half the specified pace of the district‘s new beefed-up curriculum. In addition, Gallardo has a reverse-Ivanhoe problem: She can’t find enough native English speakers to participate.
Such a state of affairs is no wonder given the district‘s disorganization. Dual language is labor- and dedication-intensive; it thrives or withers on the whims, talents and attention spans of local administrators who have plenty else to worry about. Yet, no one in the L.A. Unified central bureaucracy manages or tracks dual language districtwide.
Caldera, the language-acquisition director, can provide guidance when it’s requested, “but we no longer provide direct training to schools. We don‘t have meetings directly with school personnel . . . We do our best to monitor each local district and get information about programs.”
And while there is some supervision of programs currently funded by grants, the real authority now rests with the 12 subdistricts, each headed by its own superintendent, added Caldera.
But her counterparts in the subdistricts aren’t necessarily asserting control either. The upshot is that something as simple as a change in principals can doom a dual-language program.
An exception is local District I, under Superintendent Sylvia Rousseau, where plans are in the works to expand Spanish dual language at Weigand Avenue Elementary in Watts into a schoolwide magnet program. And in District K, which runs south from Gardena, two schools have recently begun a Spanish dual-language program. Another exception is the Korean dual-language APOLO program, which oversees four elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school. With the addition of Fairfax High this year, L.A. Unified has become the only school district in the country with K-through-12 Korean dual language, said program adviser Craig Merrill. Its students typically score well above other students at the same schools. The APOLO office also has branched out to provide assistance to some Spanish dual-language efforts and could take on more, perhaps even Ivanhoe.
That prospect delights Ivanhoe parents, who‘ve never enjoyed much district assistance. To stem the recent crisis, they had to appeal to senior administrators and to school-board members -- Caprice Young and David Tokofsky quickly offered encouragement. The parents also involved state Assemblywoman Goldberg, a former school-board member. Goldberg immediately dialed up old friend Liliam Leis-Castillo, the local superintendent over Ivanhoe.
Finally, in April, Superintendent Castillo promised transitional funding so Ivanhoe would not be short on teachers. The dual-language parents also compromised, accepting a less-intensive format, one that is 50 percent in English almost from the start. As a result, Principal Collier will have more-flexible scheduling options and perhaps better test scores in English, especially since the new format makes room for phonics. (Phonics instruction has been notably absent in some dual-language programs.) And last week, Collier even agreed to join full bore in recruiting, so more Latino families from Ivanhoe’s own attendance area would sign up.
“This is a very big world, and we need to be working and speaking in more than one language,” said Assemblywoman Goldberg. “Languages tend to reinforce one another. Europe is a good example of a place where students are able to become multilingual. Are our kids more stupid?”
Third-grader Miles Melendrez offered his own testimonial: “When I grow up, when I go to work and there is a person who only speaks Spanish, I will understand. It‘s fun to understand two languages. It makes me proud.”
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