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Proposition 58 Would Undo Limitations On Bilingual Education

San Gabriel teacher Jenny Tan helps a student who's been in the U.S. less than a year learn the basics of English.
San Gabriel teacher Jenny Tan helps a student who's been in the U.S. less than a year learn the basics of English.

Proposition 58 Would Undo Limitations On Bilingual Education
Proposition 58 Would Undo Limitations On Bilingual Education GUESTS: Ken Noonan, former superintendent, Oceanside Unified School District Francisco Escobedo, superintendent, Chula Vista Elementary School District

About wanting for public school students in California speak aligned with -- a link which under the English. 20 years ago voters agree that the best way to teach the students English was a doorway with the existing bilingual education program and immerse the students in English. Now proposition 58 on the state election ballot would end the mandate on English only education work as part of our Council election coverage they visited a school in San Gabriel we are tool language and English only instruction exist side-by-side. 13 students working groups of four. The teacher gives kindergarten level lessons to fifth-graders who have been in the U.S. less than a year . This is a newcomers class at McKinley elementary school. Let's read the direction together. Did you hear that it is from apple shaped timer. It will ring when it's time to move on. The clock is ticking. The principal said is a reminder that state law says the students will have to sink or swim and their main English only classes next year. Many swim. There are some where that clock ticks and it they are not ready to go into that main class but the long requires us to make their move on. Those students would struggle less if teachers could use their native languages a lot more. We could spend more time in their native language and working on that proficiency and getting to the higher level thinking skills. I think they've -- they would be that much more had. That is prohibited by state law. California voters passed proposition 227, which required teaching these kids in English only. The old system immigrant students where they were not -- In the 1990s many students did go into bilingual programs. But instead of having good programs proposition 227 threw them out. Times have changed now. We cannot understand that bilingual lessons are a huge advantage. UCLA researcher says that proposition was AD toward to a a dead-end. We can do both. We can keep all the languages and at the same time we can make the transition to English. He says some the best bilingual teaching to place a dual immersion programs. Dual immersion programs have been thriving in many schools. To participate parents need to sign waivers yearly. McKinley elementary started the program three years ago. The principal takes me on a tour. This is a kindergarten dual language. Their learning 90% Spanish and 10% in English. Here there are no limits on the use of the foreign language. This class is a mix of English learners and native English speakers. The clock is not taking on the newcomer students to learn English. It is the opposite theory. We are looking at the long-term picture student achievement. The games are really not going to start seeing until the upper grades and into high school. If prop 58 erases bilingual programs they can start dual immersion programs and offer students more help in the native language. It will be up to voters in November. Joining us in support of the current English only learning in most of California's public schools is Ken Noonan , former superintendent, Oceanside Unified School District . He is against prop 58, which would lift restrictions on bilingual education in California. Welcome to the program. Thank you. Back in the 90s you were initially opposed to proposition 227, which created the restrictions on bilingual education. What changed your mind about those restrictions? What change my mind was I started getting calls from our teachers. I had met with someone in the neighborhood of over hundred teachers to talk about the implementation. We had tears in the room. People was just as concerned as I. Five months to implementation I got a call from a teacher just very briefly she said should just arrived from Mexico. She had me -- a second grade both in the as a teacher he really has a good handle on pronunciation but as you but -- what did this mean and what did that mean. He answered flawlessly. I had calls from other teachers over the next month much of the same result. These kids were moving into English literacy so much faster than I ever thought could happen at first I thought it was a fluke about the end of the first year by June the story was the same and in most of the classrooms -- There is research that shows English language learners do better in the long run. Not necessarily perhaps in the first, second, third, fourth grade but in the long run if they are enrolled in two language programs and taught in the language that they speak at home. So having to respond to that research. That research was existed in the 90s when proposition 227 passed. That research goes toward support of the same theory that two languages in the classroom are better. I challenge that. I believe that we do not need to do more than one language in the classroom. A lot of what we were about in the 90s was that children's home language should be preserved by their school. I believe that our obligation was to teach immigrant children English as quickly and as well as possible. Some programs like dual immersion if done correctly and done well, I can see that that does happen. The children to get a benefit from it. The greatest benefit goes to the English speakers to go into dual language immersion programs because they are Reno English. They are able to capitalize on the instruction in Spanish as a bonus. Many have seen the boat that eliminated tool language instruction in California. Schools as a political backlash against immigrants. When you consider that history, do think it is time to rethink that those -- rethink those restrictions? No, not at all. The problem has always been a kind of institutional isolation of students who were put into bilingual classrooms of our schools. While we found after we did English with a proposition 227. People play together on the playground that have never played together, sat together in a cafeteria and that classroom where they never had before. Those kids in the bilingual classrooms pretty much remained among themselves. I've been speaking with Ken Noonan , former superintendent, Oceanside Unified School District. Thank you so much. You are welcome. Thank you. With a different take on tool language immersion program we welcome Francisco Escobedo, superintendent, Chula Vista Elementary School District . Welcome to the program. I'm glad to be here. After proposition 227, which put restrictions on dual language education, when did your school district start offering immersion programs? We started back in 1998. We enhance our commitment to serving the needs of English learners. We focus on those research-based practices and offered to do a waiver system to ensure that our English language needs were being met. What is the makeup of the students enrolled in these programs? We have a third of the students are English only students meaning they speak solely English. About a third I bilingual students that speak both English and Spanish and then maybe a third we call English learners whose native language is Spanish. About how many schools in the district offer tool language immersion? We are the largest elementary school district in the state. We have 45 schools and 21 at a 45 schools offering a dual language immersion program. Francisco, I've heard that there is a big demand for these programs. Parents tried to get a spot. What you think they become so popular? I think parents know the need that to be eligible but also in the workplace. Parents to know that learning another language is going to be an added value when they go to work and find a career. I believe parents are very savvy in what's best for their child. We just heard from Ken Noonan who said that he saw test scores go up with English only programs. Can you talk about the performance on English learners in your district who are enrolled in dual language versus those were not? When I look at my results, our students who are in a dual language immersion score about double digit above the English learners are not in a dual language immersion program. The students who are English only score significantly above their counterparts. It is not just a benefit for English learners . This is for all students who go to these dual language immersion schools. Moving forward if prop 58 is approved, will that affect the program? Our culture is already set up to create tool language type of settings. It's will definitely assist us with the bureaucracy of of obtaining waivers and getting exemptions. However, our cultural is so strong in offering a multi-literate setting environment. It will have minimal effect on our district in particular. However, I believe for other districts psychologically it truly legitimizes their ability to offer multiple languages. I've been speaking with Francisco Escobedo. --, Superintendent, Chula Vista Elementary School District. Thank you so much. You are very welcome.

California Counts is a collaboration of KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio to report on the 2016 election. The coverage focuses on major issues and solicits diverse voices on what's important to the future of California.

On a recent afternoon in San Gabriel's McKinley Elementary School, a class full of students who arrived in the U.S. less than a year ago practiced their English language skills.

They are third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, but the English lessons are at a kindergarten level. 

Most of these students are able to write full compositions in their native languages, said the school's principal Jim Symonds, so the ideal approach would be to continue teaching them in their native language to keep their brains stimulated while folding in English language instruction.

"If we could spend more time teaching them in their native language and working on that proficiency and getting to those higher level thinking skills, I think they’d be that much further ahead academically and be able to pick up English faster," Symonds said. 

But current state law prevents the school from teaching them using those methods. 


Instead, the English in Public Schools Initiative, which California voters approved in 1998, requires that the students spend one year in a sheltered class like this one, taking all of their classes in English, before transitioning to mainstream classes at their grade level. 

Proposition 58, on next month's California ballot, would remove those limits on native language instruction. The measure would directly affect instruction for the state's 1.3 million English learners and indirectly for those students whose parents want them to be bilingual. 

The initiative has drawn wide support from educators who point to research in the last decade that suggests young people who learn multiple languages improve their brain’s ability to focus and manage several tasks at the same time, which are the keys to learning.

It's also supported by dozens of Democratic elected officials, the California Association for Bilingual Education, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the Advancement Project and the think tank EdTrust West.

The proposition's strongest opponent is the man who created the bilingual education limits through Proposition 227, the original ballot measure passed 18 years ago. 

“Bilingual education is dead and it’s not coming back,” said Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who authored and funded Prop. 227.

At the time Proposition 227 made it on the ballot, more than 400,000 students were enrolled in bilingual education programs in California schools.

“The old system put hundreds of thousands – a good fraction of a million students – in a program where they were not taught English as soon as they started school,” Unz said.

Some of the bilingual education programs immersed students in their native language – largely Spanish – while dual immersion programs focused on Spanish instruction and built up English gradually from the early grades. At the time, many Californians were worried about increasing levels of immigration and were concerned about how newly arrived students were acclimating to their schools. 

Unz and others seized on the failings of some bilingual programs to underline that many students languished without properly learning English and transitioning to standard classes.

Supporters of Proposition 58 don't disagree entirely.

“The programs were literally all over the place,” said Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, dean at UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. "Each district, each school seemed to have its own set of priorities and rules and predilections when it came to bilingual education.”

Proposition 227, Suárez-Orozco said, was a political response to the failings of bilingual education that largely eliminated bilingual education rather than find what was working.

But a lot has changed in California since Proposition 227. Latinos are now the state's largest ethnic group, and their representation in Sacramento has increased. Bilingualism has become accepted as a point of cultural pride while the changing workforce has put a premium on workers who speak multiple languages.  

“We now know in California, that it’s not just a cool thing to have your child be bilingual, we actually know that it’s important for our children to have more than one language early on,” said Gisele Ragusa, an education researcher at University of Southern California.

The new measure would keep the current English immersion programs as a minimum requirement for English learners but would allow school districts to create their own bilingual education programs as they see fit to serve those students.

The measure would also allow schools to use as much of a student’s native language as they see fit to support a student’s learning.

Students who are English learners in California have struggled because state rules limit the amount of native language support. The lifting of those limits by Proposition 58 could improve their learning at a time when there’s a deep achievement gap between most English learners and their white and Asian counterparts.

Many students struggle in an environment in which they have to abandon the familiarity of their native language.

“If we say to them, when you come to school you can’t speak the language you’ve been speaking for four years, five years, three years at home, we are sending messages to them that the language of power isn’t their own and it’s incredibly discriminatory,” Ragusa said.

If Californians pass the ballot measure, future classes for students learning English might look something like the dual language program that exists at McKinley Elementary School just down the hall from the newcomer class. 

Under the current law, courses can be taught in more than one language if the parents of each child participating in the program sign a waiver. McKinley started such a program for Spanish three years ago, and the students enrolled are a mix of English learners and native English speakers. 

Teacher Consuelo Gomez and an aide walk around a kindergarten classroom helping students recognize basic Spanish words by asking them to identify pictures. The question and answer between teacher and student is sometimes in Spanish, other times a mixture of English and Spanish.

The approach, Symonds said, is to gradually build up these kids' mental ability to learn two languages.

In kindergarten, the instruction is 90 percent in Spanish and 10 percent in English, Symonds said. The amount of instruction in English gradually increases each year as students progress through elementary school, until roughly half of class time is spent in English and half in Spanish.

"We’re immersing them in two languages," Symonds said. "We’re looking at the long-term picture of student achievement. The gains, we’re not going to start seeing until the upper grades and into high school," he said. 

The current bilingual education limits, Symonds said, are like a timer that forces kids to sink or swim in their new language without the lifeline of their native language. The only clock that should be ticking, he said, is kids' ability to learn.

"Kids evolve naturally, and you know, some countries that we know don’t start reading until they’re six or seven years old," he said.

Whether or not the limits on bilingual education are lifted will be up to voters in November.

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