Bill aims books at English learners
Whittier Daily News
August 22, 2006

Supporters say text will not be in Spanish
By Araceli Esparza Staff Writer

Kindergartners learning about friendship might have difficulty pronouncing the names of friends named "Chrysanthemum" and "Delphinium."

And if the young students are also learning English, the metaphoric correlation to flowers could be lost on them, educators said.

 "There's no familiarity with these vocabulary words," said Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, a senior project director with the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

"The fact that they're attached to children's names complicates the story. The metaphor on flowers is just lost," she added.

Now, a bill by state Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Whittier, would allow textbook publishers to print easier-to-understand books and materials geared especially toward English learners that trim out complicated words like Chrysanthemum, while also using more illustrations.

But the bill is coming under fire from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who believes use of those textbooks by English learners would single out those students and cause them to be treated differently from their classroom peers.

The bill, SB 1769, which goes before the Assembly Appropriations Committee this week, would allow individual public school districts to decide whether they want use the special textbooks.

There are about 70 school districts in the state where at least 50 percent of students are English learners, said Nichole Munoz-Murillo, a consultant with Escutia's office.

"Nobody wants students to be behind. We all want them to learn English and we want them to do it more quickly," she said.

The new textbooks are still being developed, Spiegel-Coleman said, whose office is working with textbook publishers. But essentially, the books would replace complicated language with easier-to-grasp terms, and would rely more on drawings and pictures to get ideas across, she added.

No Spanish would be used in the textbooks, Spiegel-Coleman added. For example, she said, "it would still be a story on friendship, but it wouldn't complicate it with the difficult names."

"It wouldn't derail kids from understanding the story," Spiegel-Coleman said.

Schwarzenegger came out against the bill last week in a letter to Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland.

"I cannot endorse any effort which may lead to the creation of separate curricula and textbooks that will isolate these students within our public schools," the Austria-born governor wrote. "I learned English by immersion and believe in my heart that full immersion is the best approach to teaching language that exists."

Suzanne Wierbinski, Escutia's chief of staff, said her bill would not segregate children in the same classrooms. Because the texts must still be printed entirely in English, the books would continue English immersion as the principal means of teaching the state's estimated 1.6 million English learners.

"These books are in English, written in English and taught in English," Wierbinski said. "It is a complete misrepresentation to say otherwise."

Several area school districts, including the Bassett Unified School District, the El Rancho Unified School District in Pico Rivera and the Alhambra Unified School Districts, have endorsed Escutia's bill.

Sabrina Lockhart, a spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger, said the bill also is opposed by the state Board of Education, which is "renowned for its textbook selection," she said.

"From our point of view, it would create separate books and separate curriculums for subjects all students need to take," Lockhart said.

State Board of Education officials did not return calls seeking comment Monday.

"We're merely asking that the state board allow for the development of these textbooks," Munoz-Murillo said.
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