Tuesday, April 18, 2006

School Board ignores pleas for ELL

Board of Education rejects calls to dramatically change textbooks

By JULIET WILLIAMS, Associated Press Writer
Published 12:10 am PDT Tuesday, April 18, 2006

SACRAMENTO (AP) - The state Board of Education on Monday approved options for textbooks to be used in classrooms through 2014, but rejected pleas from bilingual education advocates who wanted to include textbooks that address the needs of English learners while teaching California's curriculum.
Critics of the current options for schools - including Assemblywomen Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, and Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles - wanted the board to also let schools use textbooks they said would help non-English speakers with vocabulary while learning basic subject matter.

Instead, the board voted 6-4 to adopt the recommendations of its curriculum committee, leaving English-as-a-second-language instruction separate from other academic subjects.

The board's vote starts the process of telling textbook publishers what options the state wants when they develop the next set of textbooks, to be used in classrooms starting in the 2008-09 school year. Schools and districts then can choose from the state-approved options.

The vote signified a loss for newer board members who advocated reforming the existing teaching options. Education Secretary Alan Bersin, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's appointee to the board, had urged members to put off a vote until July so they could look at options he said the committee had failed to study.

"There is no record that any of this was considered at any time during the deliberations," Bersin said, criticizing their work.

Dozens of people lined up to speak in favor of and against offering alternatives. One woman, a teacher, read a kindergarten story in Korean, saying board members likely understood as much of that story as a child with little or no English would understand with the existing teaching options.

But others, including commissioner and board member Ruth Green, noted that the state already was under a tight deadline to give the textbook companies guidance, and that it took a year to devise the proposal presented Monday. She argued that the existing system already has led to improvements in scores on national tests and doesn't need tinkering.

Norma Baker, director of elementary programs at the state's largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, and former chairwoman of the state's curriculum commission, said all students should be taught the same if they are expected to meet the same standards.

"It is a rigorous, demanding curriculum based in the foundation that all students can achieve," she said.

Board member Johnathan Green, worried that a separate instructional method designed for English learners might lead to classes segregated by English proficiency, potentially leaving the state open to litigation.

"My concern, being an African-American, is that we (could) have different standards," said Williams, who voted in favor of the commission's recommendation.

Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, project manager for multilingual curriculum at the Los Angeles County Office of Education, said her group and others who favored change were shut out of talks.

"The curriculum that's going to be sustained for the next eight years ... will have the same lessons, same text, same teachers guide, no matter who sits in front of the teacher," she said.
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