Here’s an interesting follow-up note from Hal Netkin, the author of the recent Wall Street Journal article on “bilingual education,” and a volunteer on our campaign.
August 27, 1997
Ines and I visited Valerio School as a follow-up to a previous visit several weeks ago, but this time to visit a fifth grade class (Valerio is the elementary school mentioned in my WSJ piece publish 8/24/97). Several days before our visit, I had asked the principal, Mrs. Ruiz if Ines and I would be able to hear some of the children who are recent BE-to-All-English re-designees in a fifth grade class read grade level English material, and see samples of their writing.
It was no surprise when Mrs. Ruiz phoned me the day before today’s visit and said that if Ines and I wanted to sit in on a fifth grade class for 20 minutes, we may do so. But she has refused to allow us to hear the children read grade level English and refused to allow us to view some of the children’s English writing sample — because she didn’t want to disrupt the teachers schedule, adding that she cannot control what the teacher may be teaching at the instant of time that we will be there.
Upon our arrival to the school, Mrs. Ruiz assigned Mrs. Bové, the Bilingual Program Coordinator, to accompany Ines and me to one of the fifth grade classrooms. The three of us sat down in the corner of the classroom where we observed the instruction and I could quietly ask Mrs. Bové questions.
There were 29 students in the class, all Latino. Of these, six students were in the process of being redesignated to all English classes. They were siting at a corner table reading English under the instruction of the main teacher who was an accredited experienced teacher but was not bilingual. I stepped over to the group of six to listen and heard two students read. One student struggled to read. As he attempted to pronounce each word, the teacher would simply say each word and the student would then repeat the word. A second reader did quite well. I did not have time to observe the other four readers. I was not allowed to see the reading material or ask questions of the teacher.
The other 23 students were being instructed completely in Spanish by a teaching assistant. I asked Mrs. Bové what credentials the assistant had. She said “none” — to be a bilingual teaching assistant, one only has to have a high school diploma and promise to attend college classes with the ultimate aim of getting a degree (Ines told me later that while I was observing the readers, Mrs. Bové suggested to her that she could be a teaching assistant).
Here are some of the questions and answers of during and after the meeting .
Hal. What percentage of students had been redesignated last year?
Bové. (Most likely, she was embarrassed to tell me) You will have to get that information from the principal (previously, when asked the question, the principal said that she did not have that data at hand).
Hal. How many all-English classes were there at Valerio? Bové. “none”. This is due to demographics, there were not enough native English speakers to form such a class.
Hal. What do you do with students who’s native language is not English or Spanish? Bové. We provide native language assistance to Armenian children.
Hal. Do they use Armenian books? Bové. No. Because Armenian sounds and alphabet are not transferable to English as Spanish is.
Hal. How do Armenian children do compared to Latino children? Bové. I don’t know.
Hal. What about Chinese children, their language is totally unrelated to English. Do they have bilingual instruction? Bové. I live in West L.A. where there are many Chinese families that live close to me. They send their children to Chinese schools on the weekend where they learn in their primary language. This gives the Chinese children a foundation for learning English.
Hal. I thought you said that some languages were not transferable to English. Bové. Research (Steve Krashen’s theory) shows that when a child can read in a language, even if that language is unrelated to English, the reading skills can be transferred to English.
Hal. Since a pre-schooler or first grader hasn’t learned to read in his/her “native” language anyway, why not start with English? Bové. You would be surprised how much the none-English-speaking student already knows in their native language.
And so we went around and around in a circle.