$25,000 bonuses for English immersion teachers?

California’s new statewide SAT-9 test scores should provide new evidence regarding the impact of Prop. 227, the 1998 initiative which dismantled bilingual education. Although the subtotal test scores of immigrant (“LEP”) students will not be made public until mid-August, the overall scores, released at the beginning of this week, do provide intriguing indications.

In particular, one school in Orange County, San Juan Elementary, showed astonishing improvement, increasing its aggregate student scores by over 50% from 1999, and over 100% from 1998. This doubling of test scores in less than two years is likely to earn each teacher there a $25,000 individual performance bonus under California’s new system of educational rewards. The size of the academic rise—and the expected cash bonus—generated local media coverage.

The under-emphasized element of the original story was that nearly 90% of the students at San Juan are LEP/immigrant and the school had rapidly and thoroughly shifted to English immersion from bilingual education following the passage of Prop. 227. Therefore San Juan is one of the very few schools in the state in which the aggregate test scores directly reflect the impact of Prop. 227, and this particular verdict is extraordinarily positive. By contrast, Santa Ana, a heavily immigrant nearby school district which made huge efforts to retain its bilingual programs has displayed a minimal increase in aggregate test scores, a fact now noted by one of the district trustees.

Until the release of the immigrant sub-scores in August, these are merely “straws in the wind”…but they do appear to be blowing in the direction of Prop. 227 and English immersion.

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