[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
GWEN IFILL: So, is bilingual education dead? Joining us to discuss the California experience are two school superintendents who have witnessed it. Ken Noonan, of the Oceanside School District north of San Diego, helped create the California Association of Bilingual Educators 30 years ago. He now believes English immersion is working. Jack McLaughlin of the Berkeley District, who we just met in Spencer Michels’ piece, says students can best be taught in their native language.
Welcome, gentlemen. Mr. Noonan, when Proposition 227 passed two years ago, you said this would be a step back. You have apparently changed your mind.
KEN NOONAN, Oceanside School Superintendent: I have. And that’s been based on experience, two times. One is the test scores of our Spanish-speaking children, especially the primary grades, have dramatically risen. The second is, visiting classrooms over two years and asking children to read to me and explain to me what they’ve read indicate that children are learning to read, to read English and read it well much earlier than i ever thought they could.
GWEN IFILL: Why is it that you were opposed to it originally?
KEN NOONAN: I’ve been a advocate for bilingual education for a long time. I was a teacher and a manager of bilingual education and helped form an association to support teachers. That advocacy has been strong, even though I’ve suspected for a long time there were some flaws we were not fixing, such as the length of time that many children were spending in, in our case, in Spanish instruction versus moving to English.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Mclaughlin, what has your experience been?
JACK McLAUGHLIN, Berkeley School Superintendent: Well, my experience has been in Berkeley School District, working with students and schools for over 27 years as a superintendent and really developing techniques, methodologies, to provide maximum achievement for all students, so it’s just not limited to students that don’t speak English, but all students in all ways.
GWEN IFILL: But you don’t think that English immersion has been working?
JACK McLAUGHLIN: Oh, I’m really pleased. And I want to commend Ken for the great rise in test scores. That’s fantastic. The whole state has pulled together through reforms, through the efforts of our teachers, all working together to make education better for everyone. But as far as, is it working, yes, it is working, but so are many outstanding bilingual programs throughout the state. The test scores from the bilingual programs that we have meet or exceed all those in the English immersion classes, so we’re very proud of them, too.
GWEN IFILL: So the test scores in Berkeley, have they reflected the same improvement that they have in Oceanside?
JACK McLAUGHLIN: Well, actually, our scores started out and are higher than those in Oceanside for whatever reason, but we have seen improvement, and we’re looking for more.
GWEN IFILL: So what is the point in bilingual education if English immersion works so well?
JACK McLAUGHLIN: Well, the point is our goals are not only to have our children speak English fluently, but also have access to the learning curriculum from the first day of school. And at the end of the program, as the program transitions into middle school, to not only be fluent in English, but fluent in a foreign language, Spanish in this case, be biliterate, bilingual, and we feel that the citizens of today in this world need more than just one language. So we’re very proud of our program. It is successful, and it works for us.
GWEN IFILL: So Mr. Noonan, is there any reason why bilingual education is still necessary if people who come to the school system already with different… a different language from their homes now are learning English in the schools, why do the schools now have to teach bilingually anymore?
KEN NOONAN: Well, i think the issue is one that’s flexibility to all districts in the state of California. Districts can pick their way to go through it. However, the new law, 227, clearly mandates that instruction be provided in English, and almost overwhelmingly in English. We took that law and applied it very literally, and we’ve seen great success. Yes, there are other things that have gone on. Reducing class size in grades one and two in our district, also moving to a strong phonics program has helped all children in our district; all of our scores have gone up. But clearly 227 was catalytic. It was a catalyst for our district, at least, and showed us that these children could progress in English far earlier than we had anticipated. So the worth of a program such as bilingual education becomes really something that’s very personal, and I think something that each district has to examine.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Noonan, let’s talk about these tests for a moment. We know there is always controversy about standardized tests. Are these tests an adequate measure about whether the students are actually learning English, or whether they’re just learning how to take tests?
KEN NOONAN: Well, I think they’re adequate in the sense that they really do test the spectrum, it’s reading, and writing, and Math, and it’s Science, and other subjects will be added. The tests are pretty comprehensive and fairly broad. Some people don’t like normed tests, but i think this gives us a pretty clear measure. The tests are in English, so it’s also a test of how well the children can understand the problem and provide a solution.
GWEN IFILL: How about that, Mr. Mclaughlin, these tests?
JACK McLAUGHLIN: Well, the tests are again a snapshot in time, and we’re just in our infancy in this high- stakes testing in California. But — and it’s shown, at least the research i’ve seen, that as a new test is administered, the results do increase in the first few years as teachers now understand what is expected to be tested and the curriculums are aligned to that test, and yes, test results increase; they do. But that is not the only measure. I mean, communities, as Ken said, should have the opportunity to choose the outcomes that they want. If reading English and speaking English is the sole outcome, that’s one thing. But if we want to go beyond that and talk about reducing or eliminating the achievement gap, or having students have access to more than one language, than that perhaps is another desire.
GWEN IFILL: Does the current law allow that kind of flexibility, in your opinion?
JACK McLAUGHLIN: Oh, yes, it does. The current law does allow for waivers. There are many successful bilingual programs thriving in the state of California through the waiver process that the parents are allowed to opt in, and they’re doing very, very well. I agree with Ken that this was catalytic, and i commend Unz for doing this. It put the spotlight on a very severe need that we have all over the nation. And that in itself has energized us all to find solutions to this problem, and that is in the best interest of all the students.
GWEN IFILL: How do we know part of the solution wasn’t the class size that Mr. Noonan mentioned or was not the phonics education that he mentioned? How do you measure that against the English immersion program?
JACK McLAUGHLIN: And I think that’s what the state officials are talking about. It’s early to make a judgment that, yes, because of Proposition 227, therefore all students are going to learn to speak English sooner, faster, and so forth. They’re saying we need time to study this. That’s what I’d recommended. It seems to be accelerating to a national issue, so maybe we ought to have a national study of this similar to the Collier-Thomas 14-year study on education. It had similar results. Let’s elevate this to a research level, not take tools out of teacher’s hands that may be good for kids and really come to some conclusions, rather than make it a political football.
GWEN IFILL: How about that, Mr. Noonan? Is this something that can be measured on a national level, or can this only be measured district to district, state to state?
KEN NOONAN: Doing it at a national level would be fine, and I agree with jack that needs to be done. However, i think the issue is we’re at a critical stage in California, probably in the nation. We need to move our children, our Latino children into the English mainstream as quickly as possible, because the language of success in this country is English. And unless we do that, these children will not see the success that others have. In our case, we have seen children moving from Spanish to English, coming to almost grade level in reading within two years, which used to take five to six years by teaching children to read first in Spanish and then in English. I think there is a place for research, but we don’t have time to wait. We need action. Our children must be brought into the English mainstream as quickly as we can do that.
GWEN IFILL: It sounds like you’re saying that the traditional method of bilingual education, which is teaching children in lower grades in their own language and then eventually bringing them into English, should be set aside now in favor of this way of doing it in California.
KEN NOONAN: What I’m saying is people should not be afraid of it, that it works. It works well. And they should take a close look at it, as something they should use in their district.
GWEN IFILL: How about that, Mr. Mclaughlin? Is this something that Arizona and California, which now are taking this up next in their own initiatives, is this something they ought to act on based on the California experience?
JACK McLAUGHLIN: I still really have a problem with taking a tool out of a teacher’s hand. It’s like telling an art teacher that you can teach art, but you can’t use the color red. You know, if, in fact, the ability to speak another language will help a student learn, not only English, but the whole learning curriculum, then why should we take that out of a teacher’s hand? I can’t think of another teaching technique that has been inaty the voters. I don’t know of another one. It’s like in the beginning of the century when you could only learn if you were right-handed. So all the left-handers were forced to write right-handed. I mean, it’s very comparable to me. Why take a tool that can be used out of a teacher’s hand, especially with the high-stakes accountability in testing we have. We’re accountable for results. Why should it matter how we get to those results, because we are held accountable to the results, and if we need to teach bilingually, then allow us to teach bilingually.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Noonan and Mr. Mclaughlin, thank you very much. I imagine California, as usual, is starting a national debate. Thank you.