View from Lodi, CA: Guess Who`ll Pay For The Coming “English Learner” Disaster

If you argued that passing school
bonds was essential in order to provide a decent
education to hundreds of thousands of California K-12
students, then you`re elated with early March results.

Of the 76 measures on the ballot,
65 passed. An additional $6.8 billion now goes into the
till for school construction funds.

Proposition 39, which

allowed
school districts to lower the majority
needed to approve bonds from 2/3 to 55%, played a
starring role. Of the 65 winning measures, 39 passed
because of the reduced margin required for victory.

Only one of the four measures using
the old standards passed and seven using the 55% margin
failed.

The

Lodi Unified School District
was one of the
beneficiaries of Proposition 39.

Measure K
squeaked by with a 57% margin.

Observers of the California`s K-12
public school system know that the recent successes at
the polls don`t make a dent in the long-term challenges.
Before the first cornerstone is laid for the news
schools, a cry for more will be heard.

For the foreseeable future, school
enrollments will rise for one reason: the
ever-increasing population of

non-English speakers.

Statistics available at the
California Department of Education (www.ca.gov)
show that nearly 600,000 new “English
Learners
” — or ELs in education parlance—enrolled in
K-12 schools in the last decade. That represents about
65% of total new enrollments.

In the Lodi Unified School
District, 75% of enrollment growth over the last 10
years is designated EL.

Nearly 25% of all California public
school children have a limited grasp of English. And
while total enrollment in California school has
increased by 50 over the last two decades, the number of
limited English proficiency students has risen by 300%.

The nation has 3.4 million students
designated EL; 41% live in California.

Last month, the Public Policy
Institute of California (www.ppic.org)
issued a new report with some alarming statistics even
for those well acquainted with the evolving California
education crisis.

“The Linguistic Landscape of
California Schools” by Sonia Tafoya 
[Read it in

PDF
]
begins with an overview of what the
large block of non-English speakers means to California.

During the 1998-99 school year, 45%
of English Learners were in K-3; 24%, 4th-6th;
12%, 7th-8th and 17%, 9th-12th

During the K-3 years when teachers
must build an educational foundation, they are

distracted
by having to cope with large numbers of
ELs.

Among the hurdles facing
administrators when dealing with English Learners is the
need to provide specialized curriculum and to find

qualified teachers.
English Learners, especially
older students with little or no academic training, fare
poorly without—or even despite of—intervention.

Poverty rates among English
Learners are high. Different ethnicities have their own
racial, cultural and linguistic obstacles. These
variables add another layer to demands on the teacher`s
precious classroom time.

Since 1981, the number of English
Learners has increased in every region of California.
The San Joaquin Valley had 27, 263 ELs in 1981; in 2000,
168,064. That is a 516% increase since in 20 years.

But a 516% increase is only good
enough for 5th place among all California
regions. Those finishing with higher percentage
increases are, in order, the Inland Empire (656%);
Sacramento (596%); the Mountain Region (543%) and the
North Coast (456%).

Spanish-speaking English Learners
remain the dominant group. They have increased from 76%
of the total in 1981 to 82% in 2000. Growing numbers of
English Learners are found among native speakers of
Russian, Ukrainian, Urdu and Punjabi.

Speakers of Vietnamese, Cambodian,
Hmong and Lao, while still substantial in total numbers,
have either leveled off or are in decline.

What this means is that as long as
large numbers of non-English speakers continue to enroll
in the California public school system, taxpayers will
always be asked to fund more construction projects.
Schools and teachers will be in short supply
indefinitely.

The system will, at all times, be
strained.

Political promises of revamping
education or insistence that greater teacher
accountability will assure classroom success can be
ignored.

As for the students, the long-range
picture is mixed. Many ELs lag behind native speakers

academically
even after they are designated as
fluent.

For those students who continue to
struggle with English regardless of their designation,
economic opportunities after high school are limited.

The Public Policy Institute`s study
makes clear that serving the English Learners of
California, once limited to large urban areas, is a
growing, statewide problem.

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the


Lodi News-Sentinel
.