Lawmakers block efforts to help kids
LA Daily News
September 18, 2006

JILL STEWART, Guest Columnist

FOR now, the California Legislature's unseemly war on
the gutsy, no-nonsense state Board of Education is
over, with our unpopular Legislature abandoning
Sacramento for its long annual vacation back in the
home districts.

It would be nice if the public — left largely in the
dark — could hurl probing questions at local
“progressive” legislators as to why they are waging
war on the state Board of Education, why they are
trying to turn back the clock on Latino youths and
segregate them again, and why they are fudging numbers
to make it appear that Latinos are not improving when
they're improving faster than they have in decades.
If you hate politicians, you will really despise them
when you find out how low our Legislature went to
serve the twisted purposes of adult special-interest
groups at the expense of California's poorest kids.
The latest effort, Senate Bill 1769 by Democrats
Martha Escutia, Judy Chu and Jackie Goldberg, is
likely to be vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger,
just as it would have been by Gray Davis before him,
and Pete Wilson before him, and ... well, you get the
The bill arises from voters' 1998 decision to ban
“bilingual” education, which kept immigrants stuck in
Spanish and stunted in English. But “progressive” and
Latino elected leaders unanimously insisted that,
under Proposition 227, Latinos would buckle from the
pressure of having to perform academically while
learning English.
Remember that? Didn't happen.
Under Wilson, an emboldened state Board of Education
had already begun to reform the schools. Proposition
227 was a useful tool. As the San Francisco Chronicle
reported in 1999, “In the past year alone, Wilson's
board reinstated phonics instruction, changed how math
will be taught, installed a new state achievement
test, established grade-by-grade academic standards
and refused to consider school district requests to
teach in languages other than English.”
Davis' Board of Education was just as gutsy, linking
textbook content to the tougher standards — despite
opposition. Tests scores are now steadily climbing.
Our awful schools are doing something right.
But last spring, the Legislature declared war on the
Board of Education. “Progressive” legislators demanded
that the board adopt a faddish idea, “Option VI,” to
help “close the gap” between immigrant and
nonimmigrant students. The board refused, so Democrats
cut the board's $1.5million annual funding.
No serious researcher would embrace “Option VI,” the
latest Orwellian effort to segregate Latino students
and water down standards. The “books and materials”
were accurately described by the Los Angeles Times as
having “more pictures and simple vocabulary.”
Dumbed-down. Separate.
Arnold, who has temporarily funded the Board of
Education from funds he controls, will likely veto SB
1769. When I had lunch with him several weeks ago, we
didn't discuss it specifically, but he firmly opposed
simpler books and separate materials. “We don't want
separate, we want together.”
Even so, this will not be the last we've heard from
Sacramento “progressives.”
So what's really going on? For starters, immigrant
children are so quickly becoming literate in English
compared with a decade ago that many California
schools now refuse to identify them as fluent.
Why? Because California rewards schools for having
“English learners.” Schools who admit a student has
become “proficient” lose that money. That money, in
turn, feeds a politicized adult lobby inside the
schools whose jobs and power rely on keeping students
in the “English learner” category.
One result: 170,000 children fluent in English are
stuck in the “learner” category. And 522,000
immigrants, reclassified as proficient in English,
scored higher on statewide tests than average
California students. Their scores strongly suggest
schools require “English learners” to learn the
language better than average California students
before they are classified proficient.
A tortured analysis in Escutia's bill claims that the
“performance gap” between English-learners and other
California students “has remained virtually constant
in most subject(s)” since Proposition 227. How absurd.
In truth, California's “English-learner” population of
about 1.6million swells weekly from illegal
immigration. As fast as kids learn English, their
numbers are replenished. That's the so-called “gap.”
Schwarzenegger will probably do the right thing. But
as long as a fervently politicized mini-industry in
our schools is rewarded, the progressives' misbegotten
war over English immersion, textbooks, curriculum and
skills will persist.
Jill Stewart is a print, radio and television commentator on California politics. Contact her via her Web site,