Let's Keep Teaching English to Children in Our California Public Schools

Bilingual Education Programs Fail Our Students

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Twenty years ago, California public schools were forcing thousands of Latino children into Spanish-almost-only classes against the wishes of their parents.

In 1996, The Los Angeles Times told the story of a group of Latino immigrant parents who began a public protest against their local elementary school for refusing to teach their children English, boycotting classes and marching outside with picket signs.

That protest inspired our “English for the Children” initiative campaign, which began the following year. Our Proposition 227 required California public schools to teach children English from their first day of classes, placing children who didn’t know English into an intensive sheltered English immersion program to teach them the language as quickly as possible, then moving them into the regular classes with all the other children.

Our honorary chairman was the late Jaime Escalante of “Stand and Deliver” fame, one of America’s most famous teachers, and we attracted enormous public support. Even though almost all the politicians, Democrat and Republican alike, refused to support our initiative, we still won a landslide victory, getting over 61 percent of the vote.

The educational results were tremendous. Most California newspapers had opposed our ballot measure, but once it passed they immediately began reporting how well the new system worked and how quickly and easily hundreds of thousands of Latino children were learning English.

Within four years, the academic test scores of over 1 million immigrant schoolchildren had increased by 30 percent, 50 percent or even 100 percent. Proposition 227 was so successful that its educational results were reported on the front page of The New York Times, with major coverage by CBS News and many other national media outlets.

The founding president of the California Association of Bilingual Educators publicly admitted that he’d been mistaken for 30 years and that intensive English immersion was the best educational policy for immigrant children. He became a leading national advocate of English in the schools.

Because nearly all the Latino children in California schools are now immediately taught English, they’re doing much better academically and gaining admission to top colleges. Despite the end of affirmative action in California, there’s been a huge increase in the number of Latinos attending the prestigious University of California system.

So-called “Dual-Language Programs” — in which up to 90 percent of the instruction is in Spanish — were never completely outlawed by Proposition 227. However, parents who wanted to place their children in such non-English classes had to sign an annual waiver, and since the overwhelming majority of Latino parents wanted their children taught English, that’s exactly what has happened.

Because all these educational changes were so successful, almost everyone in California began supporting them, and the entire issue has been dead and forgotten for the last dozen years.

However, a small group of die-hard bilingual education activists never gave up. They recently hoodwinked some of the politicians in Sacramento into placing Proposition 58 on the ballot, hoping to repeal Proposition 227 and allow the re-establishment of Spanish-almost-only classes throughout California.

The supporters of Proposition 58 have publicly admitted that one of their biggest objections to the current system is that it has been difficult to persuade immigrant parents to sign waivers placing their children in non-English classes. Therefore, Proposition 58 eliminates that requirement and allows children to be placed in non-English classes without the written consent of their parents, just as had been the case 20 years ago.

The overwhelming majority of California voters, immigrant and native-born alike, believe children should be taught English in school. Therefore, the supporters of Proposition 58 are being dishonest and trying to trick the voters. They sought to give their ballot measure the very deceptive official title “English Language Education” even though it actually repeals the requirement that children be taught English in California public schools. Their proposed title of their proposition is the exact opposite of what it actually does.

And the worst part of Proposition 58 is hidden away in Section 8, which repeals all restrictions on the California Legislature to make future changes. This would allow the Legislature to reestablish mandatory Spanish-almost-only instruction in all our public schools by a simple majority vote, once again forcing all Latino children into those classes against their parents’ wishes.

Proposition 227 — “English for the Children” — has worked very well in California and has greatly improved the education of millions of immigrant schoolchildren since 1998. The voters should keep this successful system and not be tricked into re-establishing the failed education programs of the past.

Unz, a Silicon Valley software developer, was chairman of the 1998 “English for the Children” campaign to pass Proposition 227.

(Reprinted from The San Diego Union-Tribune by permission of author or representative)

• Tags: Full, Ron Unz