Forgetting the Bilingual Lesson
LA Times
August 29, 2006

EDITORIAL: LA TIMES

State legislators want to put ESL kids in a corner with different textbooks, and are willing to punish Board of Education members who don't want to revisit the bad old days.

August 29, 2006

CALIFORNIA WAS SUPPOSED TO have learned a sad but
important lesson from its years of experimenting with
bilingual education: When you isolate a group of
largely poor, minority students and give them
different instruction from what other students
receive, they tend to get a dumbed-down, second-rate
education.

Unfortunately, that lesson hasn't fully sunk in. Nor
has the idea that playground politics and retribution
are not in the best interests of schoolchildren.

This spring, the Assn. of California School
Administrators and more than 30 school districts
presented to the state Board of Education a flawed
proposal to offer English-language learners a simpler
language-arts curriculum, with separate textbooks. The
plan, called Option VI, would require those students
to devote 2 1/2 hours a day learning from texts with
shorter words and bigger pictures. Either teachers
would have to somehow teach two curriculums at the
same time one for English speakers, one for the rest
or the English learners would have to be separated
out. Either way, students lose.

The board, which is responsible for setting standards
and choosing curriculum and textbooks, rightly
rejected Option VI as a regressive return to the days
of lower expectations for children of color. That's
when Sacramento got silly. In a fit of pique, the
Legislature stripped all funding for board members'
support staff. That triggered the resignation of board
President Glee Johnson, and other members considered
following her lead. Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Whittier)
introduced a measure to restore the money but still
override the board's decision. This is a juvenile way
to deal with an adult problem.

California has embarked on a steep and difficult climb
one that is far from complete to set higher
standards, adopt strong curriculum and apply those
standards and curriculum evenly so that inner-city
students get the same education as their more affluent
peers. It is true that the state's core English
curriculum is, in many ways, a tough fit for the 1.6
million children in California who can't yet speak the
language. Teachers have been scrambling to bridge the
gaps, and they are pleading for help. The Board of
Education did approve an extra hour of English
instruction for those students, but that's not enough
to make up for the 2 1/2 hours each day in which
children feel lost amid material they don't
comprehend.

Extra help is a valuable thing, but a wholly different
curriculum for English learners reopens the door to
the days of lower standards for the nation's immigrant
children.

Escutia's bill should be dumped, the Legislature
should stop playing petty politics with the budget,
and both sides should work out a solution that gives
teachers the tools to help all students learn the same
rigorous curriculum.