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Bilingual Education

September 08, 1986

It's bad enough when uninformed lay people continually try to decimate California's bilingual program, but when a member of the California Board of Education, Angie Papadakis, shows ignorance in her article (Editorial Pages, Aug. 25), "Ramon Is Our Future, But What Is His?" I become very frustrated.

As a principal of an elementary school with a large Spanish-speaking population, I have seen, and can document, the improvement children make when they get in a good bilingual program. For example, when we implemented our practice of teaching children in their native language, we found that standardized test scores rocketed (in some cases, a full 60 percentile points).

At Eastman School in East Los Angeles, a predominantly Spanish-speaking population, students are taught almost totally in their native language and then are transitioned gradually to English in the third grade. By the time these students get to the sixth grade, they not only learn more but, according to results of standardized tests, actually do better in English than their English-speaking counterparts. There is hard data available from several other schools in the county to prove that this is not a fluke.

In fact, the Los Angeles County Department of Education is sponsoring a project in which six schools (my school, Roosevelt included), are replicating the Eastman School Project. We hope to be able to show, once and for all, that by teaching children in their native languages for three or four years, we will improve students' English far beyond what they would have gotten in a more traditional program.

The sad part of this is that because of articles, such as the one written by Papadakis, a few parents will demand that their child not participate in the bilingual program. We will pull that child out, as required by law, and watch while other native Spanish-speaking children learn English much more comprehensively. The pulled-out child may make gains, but all of us will shake our heads and wonder where that child could have been had he/she been given a proper foundation.

Papadakis also says that the Vietnamese (and others) are not in bilingual programs. I am incredulous that a member of the California Board of Education could be so ill-informed.

Papadakis also used a particularly bad analogy. She said that you do not learn to play the violin by playing the piano. This is not totally true. You use the same notes in both, the same time signatures, the same timing, and more. In fact, you can even use the same music. I have found from personal experience that struggling with the piano first made all the subsequent instruments I learned much easier.

Likewise, despite what Papadakis says, once you learn to read in Spanish, you can read in English. You only learn to read once, and it doesn't matter which language you learn first, the second will come easily.



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