A death rattle for local bilingual education
North County Times
October 26, 2005

By: North County Times - Editorial

Our view: State and federal testing forces Vista's

The Vista Unified School District deserves North County's respect and support in its decision to, at long last, drop bilingual education.

Educators instead will push their Spanish-speaking students to learn English as fast as possible. Vista made its decision after concluding that it would always be difficult to meet state and federal testing standards using dual-language instruction ---- because the tests are given in English.

Honest people can, and do, disagree on the best way to teach kids who don't come to school speaking English.

One side says that in our English-speaking nation, getting students fluent as quickly as possible is key to their economic success and social mobility. Other reasonable people argue that students will fall behind in math, history and other subjects if they spend al their time learning English, so it makes sense to preserve some instruction in their native tongues.

It's the sort of debate that belongs with educators, academics and local school boards.

However, bilingual education was taken hostage by the political forces that routinely buffet California's school system.

Foes of immigration saw state-funded instruction in Spanish as a misuse of taxpayers' money and an assault on American culture. Others saw discrimination in the English-only movement, and some politicians exploited the issue to gain favor with Latino voters.

The matter was mostly decided in 1998, when California voters approved Proposition 227, which banned widespread dual-language instruction in public schools even as it allowed parents to request waivers.

Over time, school districts in most of North County dropped programs and shifted resources to "structured immersion" in English.

Yet Vista's school board and its administrators encouraged parents to apply for waivers and provided financial support for bilingual education.

Now, under the lash of standardized testing, Vista has joined the crowd. Not incidentally, the district has 18 campuses facing federal sanctions, mostly because its Spanish-speaking students didn't score well enough on the English-only tests.

In a perfect world, Vista's educators would have decided to phase out dual-language instruction solely because it was the best thing to do for Vista students ------ a decision made by the local school board in close consultation with parents, administrators and teachers.

But the politicized world of public education is far from perfect: This move was shoved down Vista's throat by state and federal governments, which ought to have little involvement in the inherently local endeavor of educating a community's children.

In the context of state and federal mandates, Vista is doing the best th