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California and the West

Board Confirms Local-Control Policy on Bilingual Study

Schools: State panel's advisory vote is unanimous, asking only that districts use 'sound educational theory.'

April 09, 1998|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — The state Board of Education, which last month took itself out of the business of regulating bilingual instruction in California public schools, Wednesday reaffirmed that stance, advising school boards to devise their own programs as long as they are based on "sound educational theory."

On a voice vote without dissent, the board adopted a nonbinding advisory policy aimed at assuring literacy in English for approximately 1.4 million schoolchildren whose English proficiency is limited.

The new policy does not suggest how local school districts should go about meeting the English literacy recommendations. This reflects the board's decision in March to abandon its direct role in bilingual education and, instead, give local districts greater authority to make education decisions based on local needs.

Wednesday's swift adoption of the policy without debate occurred against the backdrop of Proposition 227, the bilingual education initiative, which is on the June 2 ballot.

The initiative calls for children with limited English skills to be put in mainstream classes after about one year of English-language tutoring. It would end native language instruction, with limited exceptions. Yvonne Larsen, state school board president, said the initiative, sponsored by Silicon Valley business executive Ron Unz, did not play a role in adoption of the board's new policy.

Larsen characterized the policy as the start of a new "foundation" for educating English-learners and a "very positive step" toward giving local districts more flexibility in devising their own programs.

But state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin urged the board to include in the new policy a statement about the need to measure whether local programs were succeeding and that schools should be held accountable. Her effort failed.

"It's not very significant, really not a big deal," Eastin later said of the board's action. She noted that the board's policy was advisory and did not have the force of law.

"At the end of the day, the law will be decided by the Legislature [or] by the people when they vote on the Unz initiative," she told reporters.

In addition to Proposition 227, the Legislature is considering a Democratic-backed bill to rewrite bilingual education requirements in California. The bill, which has been passed by the Senate, is pending in the Assembly.

The board's policy statement included several general provisions, including one that urged the local districts to provide enough money and teachers to get the job done.

Another advised that local education efforts "may include any program based on sound educational theory or a legitimate educational strategy."

Last month, the board voted to take itself out of the business of regulating local bilingual education and gave the task to local districts. The action occurred after a Superior Court judge ruled that the board's authority to give school districts waivers from bilingual education requirements vanished in 1987, when the state's bilingual school law expired.

Nevertheless, the Legislature had continued to approve funds for bilingual education under another part of the state Education Code. At the same time, the state Board of Education continued to rule on changes to local bilingual education plans.

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