Changes in bilingual education laws debated

California led the nation in 1976 with progressive legislation to offer bilingual programs in public elementary and secondary schools. The law mandates that any school with 10 or more students at the same grade level with the same primary language (other than English) must provide not only special English-as-a-second-language instruction, but some attention as well to maintenance of the primary language.

Further, teachers with more than 10 pupils in a given class whose primary language is not English must be bilingual. That is, a fifth-grade teacher with 30 pupils, half of whom have only limited proficiency in English and whose primary language is Spanish, must be bilingual with proven fluency in English and Spanish.

The law further requires advisory committees, an annual language census, a monitoring system, evaluation studies, and the use of bilingual aides.

There weren't enough bilingual teachers in 1976 to meet the requirements of the law, and school districts were given five years to come to complete compliance. Now, in the programs's fifth year, there is considerable controversy over whether new legislation is necessary and there is a strong movement afoot to cut back on bilingual services.

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