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Jill Stewart on English Immersion in California

Lisa Snell
February 20, 2005, 9:05am

One of my favorite commentators on California politics, Jill Stewart, takes California's School Superintendent Jack O'Connell and others like him to task for holding English Language Learners back in California. Under Proposition 227, immigrant children were only supposed to stay in special immersion for a year or so, then go to mainstream class. But O'Connell has refused to credit English immersion for soaring English literacy rates. His silence emboldens the anti-English ideologues who still strive to keep Latino kids in a separate world. Again this month, O'Connell refused to credit English immersion, telling The San Francisco Chronicle he won't guess why kids are learning English so well. Guess? Year after year, he's failed to crunch data that could compare kids still stuck in "bilingual" to those in English. The State Board of Education finally ordered O'Connell to produce a study with that in mind. While we wait, I did my own study. I found that school districts like Los Angeles Unified -- where moderate Democrats stamped out failing "bilingual" education amidst fierce lefty resistance -- are producing big, lasting gains in English literacy. By contrast, districts controlled by left-wing Democrats with an attitude of "they won't be able to talk to grandma!" are producing smaller gains. In 2001, of 244,000 L.A. kids who weren't native English speakers, only 17 percent scored as "advanced or early advanced" on statewide English tests. Today, a stunning 49 percent get those high scores. Back then, L.A. was paying 6,000 teachers a yearly bonus ($2,500 to $5,000) to teach in Spanish -- the disastrous "bilingual" program. Now, only 679 teachers get the bonuses and teach "bilingual." See any pattern there, Mr. O'Connell? By contrast, San Diego Unified was run by sad, fad-obsessed school honchos Alan Bersin and Tony Alvarado, who kowtowed to its anti-reform teachers union. It shows. In 2001, of 33,800 San Diego kids who weren't native English speakers, 24 percent got "advanced or early advanced" scores on the English tests. Today, 41 percent get those high scores -- well behind L.A. Virulently anti-Proposition 227 Berkeley Unified is almost frozen in place. In 2001, of the 1,000 Berkeley kids who weren't native English speakers, 42 percent scored "advanced or early advanced" on English tests. Today, 45 percent do. L.A. -- far more urban and poverty-riddled -- has blown past leafy Berkeley.

Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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