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Area Lags in Hiring Bilingual Teachers : Schools: A shortage of certified instructors is shortchanging students with limited skills in English, educators say.

September 05, 1993|JEFF MEYERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Even with school officials making far-ranging recruiting trips and offering bonuses to qualified prospects, Ventura County districts still lag behind the rest of the state in hiring certified bilingual teachers.

According to the latest figures compiled by the California Department of Education, the county's 20 school districts have only 315 certified teachers for the nearly 22,000 limited English speaking students enrolled in bilingual education programs.

The county's ratio of 69 students for every certified bilingual teacher is worse than the state's 61-to-1 ratio--itself considered unacceptably high by critics of bilingual education.

Statewide, as many as 20,000 additional certified teachers are needed to adequately staff bilingual education programs, experts say. County districts have to compete with districts all over the state for available certified bilingual teachers.

But the demand greatly exceeds the supply.

"California colleges and universities are producing 900 graduates a year in bilingual education, and we have 1,000 school districts in the state," said Kent Patterson, assistant superintendent for the Oxnard Elementary School District.

Some county districts are faring better than others in hiring certified bilingual teachers. Among the large districts, Ventura Unified has the best ratio of students to teachers at 36 to 1, while Oxnard Union, with the second-highest number of limited English-speaking students, has the worst ratio at 229 to 1.

Critics and supporters of bilingual education agree: The shortage of certified bilingual teachers is shortchanging students and denying them the same educational advantages as mainstream students.

"Bilingual students are being under-served," said David Dolson, a bilingual specialist with the state Department of Education.

Although county school districts bolster their bilingual education staffs with teachers-in-training and aides, certified teachers are considered the key to the program because they relate to the students in both language and culture.

"To have an effective program, you need certified teachers with the same ethnicity and the same culture as the students," said Robert Serros, a bilingual education teacher at Channel Islands High School.

A school within a regular school, bilingual education programs are supposed to teach core courses in students' native language so they can keep pace with their mainstream peers. Students also learn English, and when they can speak English fluently and satisfy other criteria, they're transferred into regular programs.

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According to Dolson, state studies show that if a bilingual education program is fully implemented--meaning a student-teacher ratio of about 30 to 1--the students who advance into the school's regular program have more success than mainstream students.

"But if the program is not fully implemented, we have data to show that the students don't do as well," Dolson said.

Critics, however, contend that bilingual education will never work. A recent report by the Little Hoover Commission, a bipartisan state watchdog agency, called California's bilingual program "divisive, wasteful and unproductive" and blasted the Department of Education for forcing schools to recruit hard-to-find bilingual teachers while bilingual students "have been cast adrift."

Some educators favor another approach to educating non-English speakers: Students are given intense English lessons for part of the day and spend the rest of the time in mainstream core classes.

In Ventura County, only Conejo Valley Unified takes this approach. Along with four other districts in California, Conejo received permission from the state by showing that its program was at least as effective as bilingual education.

"Our Board of Education's philosophy is that it's critical for these students to get conversant in the English language as quickly as possible," said Assistant Supt. Richard W. Simpson.

One advantage of the Conejo approach is the abundance of teachers with certification to teach English to foreigners. But experts say there is a disadvantage--students can lose touch with their cultural heritage and forget how to speak their native language.

The kind of program offered in the district has "no ties to the culture" of the student, said Cliff Rodrigues, director of bilingual education for the county superintendent of schools office.

"If you're not teaching a kid to speak his language, and you're not paying attention to his culture, the kid devalues himself because he thinks he's not worth anything," he said.

But Conejo Valley officials say this is not the case. "We don't ask them to give up anything," said Claudia Spellman, a district administrator. "We ask them to share their culture with us."

Conejo Valley has only three certified bilingual teachers and 10 teachers who are certified to teach English to the 1,000 English-deficient students in the district.

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