Guidelines for Teaching English Are Adopted

April 18, 2006|Carla Rivera | Times Staff Writer

A divided state Board of Education on Monday adopted far-reaching new guidelines for reading and English language arts textbooks aimed at California's elementary and middle school students, despite objections that the materials do not do enough to help students struggling to learn English.

The new curriculum, passed on a 6-4 vote, is critical because it will be used to provide detailed guidance for textbook publishers who will supply the books, teacher guides and other instructional materials for classrooms over much of the next decade.

The guidelines specify criteria for oral and written vocabulary development, writing and reading comprehension.

For the first time, the criteria seek to incorporate the needs of English learners, with additional instruction and assessments before and after regular classroom time.

Supporters contend that the curriculum will provide California with some of the most rigorous standards in the nation and ensure equity for all students.

But in a packed hearing room, opponents told board members that the guidelines do not go far enough in addressing the needs of the 1.6 million students who speak little or no English. They proposed an additional option that would allow school districts to incorporate extra instruction for English learners during regular class periods.

They said the new guidelines amount to a "one-size-fits-all" approach that does not take the divergent needs of children into account. And they cited test scores that show that, while students overall are progressing academically, the achievement gap for English learners is widening.

"We're outraged and can't believe that the state of California is prepared to say that one program fits all of the kids," said Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, a member of the group Californians Together, an English-learners advocacy group.

Earlier in the hearing, Darline P. Robles, superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, told the board that school districts must have flexibility.

And state Assemblywoman Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) told board members that the new guidelines represent the "status quo" that has not addressed the needs of the residents in her district, many of whom are English learners.

She noted that California spends more than $500 million on new textbooks every six years.

"As chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, I do not believe in wasting money that does not support a large percentage of the students in this state," Chu said.

Board members who voted against the guidelines said they were undecided on other options and sought further review.

But many other speakers supported the new curriculum and voiced concerns that other options might lead to segregating English learners from other students.

"These criteria ensure that all students are held to the same standard," said Michael Romero, director of reading for the Los Angeles Unified School District. "The additional vocabulary instruction will be greatly appreciated and effectively utilized by thousands of students in our district."

Textbook selection in California is a complex, yearlong process layered by multiple committees and reviews. The final product is a framework, which includes textbook criteria, that is submitted to the state Board of Education for approval or modification.

Textbook publishers then shape their materials to meet the criteria. Panels check content accuracy, scholarship and adherence to state standards. Committees also review social content, such as gender roles and depictions of racial, religious and ethnic groups. The board then makes final selections. New materials are adopted on a six-year cycle. The new selection will be used starting in 2008 and will be the standard through 2014.

Elementary and middle schools must spend most of their textbook funds on state-approved materials.

In recent decades, publishers -- seeking a foothold in the state's lucrative market -- have been willing to adapt materials in an effort to meet California standards.

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