Halfway Measures

Fewer than one in 10 non-English-speaking elementary students in California's public schools move from bilingual education to English instruction. That may not be such a shock if you consider that thousands of those students spend nearly half their school days in what amounts to extended recess.

That's the consequence of "mixing," a practice used widely in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Federal and state guidelines recommend having English-speaking students spend part of their classroom time with students in bilingual programs. "Some school administrators believe they can satisfy the [requirement] by shuttling students into music and art classes and physical education," notes Los Angeles Daily News reporter Terri Hardy in a December 21 investigative story. "But other schools simply send children outside to play."

State school officials claim they did not know about the problems with mixing because they only had enough inspectors to visit middle and high schools. "I agree [mixing is] a waste of time," Carmen Schroeder, who runs the LAUSD's bilingual program, told Hardy. Yet Schroeder said the district has no plans to change the practice.

California voters will have an opportunity to make bilingual education optional if they approve the English for the Children ballot initiative in June. (See "Loco, Completamente Loco," January.) Says Ron Unz, chairman of the initiative campaign, "if LAUSD indeed has a systematic campaign of giving Latino children three hours of playground recess each day and only half the academic instruction time of Anglo children, it's amazing that Latino children are doing as well as they are."

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