Original URL: http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36%257E64%257E955462,00.html

State schools see '31' as a poor fit
Amendment called too Denver-specific
By Eric Hubler
Denver Post Education Writer
Tuesday, October 29, 2002

A year and a half ago, 20 Denver parents announced they didn't like how Denver schools handled English acquisition for immigrants.

A few wrote to U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch saying the program, which his court was monitoring, was ineffective and insensitive.

Thus was born Amendment 31. If voters approve it Nov. 5, it will virtually ban bilingual education statewide and subject
noncompliant educators to dismissal and lawsuits.

"Amendment 31 would replace failed bilingual programs with English immersion for immigrant children," former Gov. Dick Lamm says in a new pro-31 radio ad.

To many educators in the 177 school districts outside Denver, however, the "English for the Children" amendment is the
latest example of a phenomenon that has long vexed them: State education policy often seems to revolve around Denver.
For that reason and others, many districts oppose Amendment 31.

"We're going to have to adhere to all of these rules because of Denver," said Aurora school board member Madolyn Paroske.

Ironically, Denver is the only district Amendment 31 wouldn't immediately affect because Denver's English language
acquisition program remains under federal supervision. Matsch's court took jurisdiction over the program after a civil
rights group sued Denver Public Schools for leaving students in Spanish classes too long.

Now DPS aims to mainstream students in three years.

Not that Denver has no stake in whether Amendment 31 passes. If it does, the measure's co-author, Rita Montero, said
she would seek to get DPS's program released from federal supervision and thus dismantled by the new state amendment.

Ninety percent of Colorado's public-school students are not in Denver, said Tustin Amole, a spokeswoman for the suburban Cherry Creek district. "We cannot let DPS or any other single school district drive education policy for the entire state," she said.

Amendment 31 is not the only example, Amole said. She believes lawmakers began using CSAP tests to rate schools
because of an impression that schools statewide were lousy. They probably got that idea from reading the Denver
newspapers, which over-report DPS's problems and under-report other districts' successes, she said.

A similar phenomenon may be at work in the genesis of Amendment 31, said Ron Unz, the California businessman who
co-authored the measure with Montero and wants to end bilingual education nationwide.

"You could argue that it is primarily a Denver issue," Unz said.

Montero was one of the Denver parents who tried to get Matsch's attention. She favored bilingual education as a young
activist but grew disgusted with it later in life when her son got put in a Denver bilingual class merely because she checked a box saying Spanish was spoken at home.

She and her husband wanted to teach the boy Spanish themselves; in school, they wanted him taught in English. They
still are still unhappy, Montero says, that they had to switch schools to get satisfaction.

Montero went on to serve on Denver's school board from 1995-98. She concedes she's not as familiar with other
districts. But she said other districts choose programs for kids without asking parents, defeating the purpose of local control.

"I consider that institutional control," she said.

"Most (Colorado) school districts I know, except for Denver, generally use an English-oriented curriculum for English
learners, and they would not be heavily affected by our initiative one way or the other," Unz said.

So why a constitutional amendment?

"Denver is a big district and families move around a lot. So if a family spends some years in Denver and doesn't learn English, and moves, it potentially causes problems for them if they didn't learn English," Unz said.

Unz is right that most Colorado educators reject what he derides as "Spanish-almost-only" education. But even many
who pride themselves on introducing English early say Amendment 31 would hamper their efforts. Even though many
school boards have come out against Amendment 31, they endorse its basic premise.

The phrase "local control" helps explain that seeming contradiction. Colorado is one of 23 states that the Denver-based Education Commission of the States classifies as "decentralized," and boards don't like to have their authority usurped.

Kathy Christie, a researcher for the group, said if Amendment 31 passes, it would be the first instance of a state mandating a particular classroom practice.

To understand how local educators feel about local control, consider Geoffrey Wolff, an oil worker, father of two, and
president of the Kit Carson school board.

Most of what Wolff knows about bilingual education, he learned from talk radio. He's against it.

That should make him a 31 supporter. Yet he says he'll vote no.

"I don't know who's behind this amendment, but let them get involved in their area and see how they can help that way," he said.

Kit Carson is a 950-square-mile Eastern Plains district with only one school and 125 students. One of them is an English

The way 6-year-old Nitzia Salcido learns is old-fashioned, even charming, and in keeping with the spirit of Amendment 31. First-grade teacher Tracey Weeks doesn't speak Spanish - no adult at the K-12 Kit Carson School does - so she sat Nitzia down with three classmates and a basket of books and told them to read to her.

"Do you know what it is?" one boy asked, pointing to a picture. "Say, 'a kid."'


"What's this?"


Nitzia, placid and pretty in a white blouse and gold jewelry, seemed to glow with the attention.

"It's basically immersion," Kit Carson Superintendent Gerald Keefe.

If 31 passes, Kit Carson would have to create a separate immersion class for Nitzia. The only way around that would be
to declare the entire grade an immersion class, Unz told The Denver Post.

Neither idea suits Keefe. Nitzia, who also gets private English lessons from a special-ed teacher, began speaking her new
tongue after two weeks. Keefe feels that's good enough to warrant letting Kit Carson be.

"Seems to be simpler than passing a constitutional amendment that treats Denver Public Schools and Kit Carson equally," he said. "We're as dissimilar as they come on this."

Nor is this the only way in which Keefe feels city folk have taken an unreasonably dim view of his school. Why, he wonders, is the legislature trying to give him money to implement character education and anti-bullying programs?

"I haven't had to erase anything from the bathroom with my name on it for five years," he marvels. The biggest controversy in Kit Carson may be whether track star Jennifer Johnson takes Harvard's scholarship offer or Princeton's.

Suburban Littleton also would seem able to welcome - or at least ignore - Amendment 31.

"We do not do primary language support," said Lucinda Hundley, assistant superintendent of student support services.

Littleton uses "sheltered immersion" - exactly what Amendment 31 calls for. "We wouldn't be that impacted instructionally," Hundley said.

Littleton's immersion classes mix speakers of various languages - just as 31 envisions - so English becomes their common code.

When Beth Capron's group at East Elementary encountered the word fragile the other day, Spanish-speaker Juan Carlos
Torres and Vietnamese-speaker Hoang Dinh conferred about what sorts of things are fragile.

"The top of the toilet," Juan Carlos said. "If you drop it, it'll break."

"A light bulb?" Hoang said.

"Oh, that's so fragile!" Juan Carlos agreed.

"The unbelievable thing about the immersion program in this school is that in a very short amount of time - I'm talking three, four years - they're reading at or very near grade level," said Sophea Trabosh, the homeroom teacher of three of Capron's students.

But that would be too long under Amendment 31, which says immersion classes are "not normally to exceed one year."

"Kids don't come out of a cookie cutter," Superintendent Stan Scheer complained. "Some need more time than others."

"Bilingual" was becoming a dirty word in many school districts long before Amendment 31 showed up, but not in Alamosa, in the largely Hispanic San Luis Valley.

"We celebrate bilingualism," board president and former Alamosa High principal Ron Hunter said.

In 1993, Alamosa was criticized by the federal Office of Civil Rights for having no plan to help English learners.

Alamosa submitted, and the feds accepted, a 55-page pledge titled "Plan for Providing Linguistic and Cultural Equity for All Students." The district promised to get teachers properly licensed in bilingual education and English as a Second

Since then, Alamosa has settled into a system where bilingual teachers use Spanish when they feel it's needed to help kids
understand what's going on.

Antoinette Rodriguez, a kindergarten teacher at Polston Elementary, showed how it works. Three of the 10 children in
her afternoon class aren't yet proficient in English.

To teach them about categories, Rodriguez let them each choose an apple from a basket. Then they arranged them by
size and color. That meant big and small and red and green to some; grande and pequeno and rojo and verde to others.

"I really don't understand how I can be forbidden from speaking Spanish. That would be like having one hand tied
behind my back. It would be a handicapping condition as a teacher, and the children would lose out," Rodriguez said.

Summit County, home to ski-industry executives and Mexican laborers, thinks it has arrived at a balanced approach to
English acquisition on its own. If American schools are struggling it's because of - not despite - increasing attention
from state capitals and Washington, Superintendent Wes Smith said.

Steven Riggins, principal of Silverthorne Elementary, knows exactly what led Ron Unz to take on bilingual education. Riggins once was a bilingual teacher in San Diego.

"I and a lot of others had questions about what was going on because those kids were in Spanish their entire K-6 career," he said.

But Silverthorne is nothing like the California barrio because all 95 English learners are in mainstream homerooms, Riggins
said. They're pulled out for English lessons of 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Teachers do use Spanish - but never, Riggins insists, exclusively.

"We don't have any classes where only Spanish is spoken," added Superintendent Smith.

"DPS might, and certainly that was the issue in California. That's not been the model ever in this school district."

Top fourth-grader Selene Saenz said her two years of Spanish support, which would be illegal under Amendment 31 without a hard-to-obtain waiver, helped her learn English.

Educators in several parts of Colorado told The Post they had no reason to doubt Montero that Denver's bilingual program has problems.

But why, asked Virginia Guzman, principal of Billie Martinez Elementary in Greeley, would anyone in Denver want to change her school?

She said parents are happy with the dual-language approach used at Martinez and fear Amendment 31 would harm the

"We obviously have not had the horrific experiences that Rita and some of the parents have said they had," Guzman said.

Added teacher Sarah Musselman: "They have examples from Denver, and they have no examples of failure from anywhere else in the state."

So it goes for educators in the hinterlands. In Kit Carson, Superintendent Keefe recently spent $500 of his own money
buying CDs of the school wind ensemble, which routinely takes first prizes in state competitions. After the election, he'll send the discs to state legislators and the governor along with a plea to find a few lines on the state report cards to let him
trumpet the band's success instead of focusing so heavily on test scores.

"There seemed to be this attitude in the state legislature that nobody in Colorado cared about what kind of education their
kids were getting, and that's just not true" he said.



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