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Wave of Waivers

If more students achieve success with the English-immersion method under Prop. 227, more parents will be willing to keep their children in those classes.

October 23, 1998

Proposition 227 has not ended traditional bilingual education, despite the firm intentions of the law's proponents, because thousands of parents are seeking waivers and returning their children to classes taught in a primary language other than English. Parents have that right under the new law, but not until their children spend 30 days in English-immersion classes. It's hard to say whether the parents are right or wrong, since Proposition 227 is essentially a giant educational experiment.

The law took effect in August, and measurable results are probably two or three years down the road. If more students achieve success with the English-immersion method, more parents will be willing to keep their children in those classes.

Parents are understandably upset when their children come home from school frustrated, even in tears, because they do not understand what the teacher is saying. Some parents also believe that teaching a child in his or her first language is the more educationally sound approach. Whatever the reason, in some school districts parents are pulling their children out of English-immersion classrooms in droves.

In school districts in Oxnard, Pomona and San Jose up to 90% of limited-English students, largely Spanish-speaking, are seeking waivers, as a Times story reported Thursday. In the Los Angeles school district, earlier fears of teacher resistance and a mass exodus from English-immersion classes have proven unfounded, with only 11% of bilingual students seeking waivers. The percentage of waivers is also low in Long Beach, Compton and Santa Ana.

The hodgepodge of bilingual education programs in California schools before the June passage of Proposition 227 ranged from a few that were very effective to large numbers that were damagingly ineffective. Because the traditional approach took too long or did not prepare children to excel in English, the voters decided to try a different approach. The law wisely allows parents a role in how their children are to be taught, and their requests for waivers are not necessarily a repudiation of the law. But the goal remains the ability to learn well in English. The schools and teachers should make every effort. If English immersion is seen as a success, the tide will turn.

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