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

Bilingual Rules Rewrite Deserves No Vote

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If we could turn back the clock to the late 1990s, we would do a few things differently. For instance, we might get out of tech stocks for awhile. But one thing we would not do is go back to the old patterns of bilingual education in California.

That is what Proposition 58 would do. And while we did not support the original Proposition 227 to reform bilingual education — just as we failed to get out of tech stocks in time — it was the right thing to do.

Reject Prop. 58. Some of its provisions are reasonable, but the wholesale rollback of the 1990s reforms is not.

In 1998, a group of Latino parents in Southern California, with the help of wealthy Silicon Valley benefactor Ron Unz, convinced voters to pass Prop. 227 to radically reform bilingual education in public schools.

Unz argued that students with limited English skills needed immersion in English instead of being taught math, science and other subjects primarily in their native tongue. Unz was branded as racist. But voters heard his arguments and overwhelmingly passed the measure.

It did not outlaw bilingual education. Prop. 227 simply required schools to get written permission from parents to place their child in a program.

Before Prop. 227, many English learners were stuck in a multiyear system that failed to teach them English. Parents couldn’t get them into immersion classes that blend more than one language. The education hierarchy insisted they be taught subjects in their native languages first to keep them from falling behind.

One reason we feared Prop. 227 at the time was the prospect of kids who don’t speak English being dropped in classes taught entirely in English, with no help catching up. That would have been terrible, but apparently it did not happen.

Look at Prop. 227 through the lens of student outcomes, which is the measure that counts: In just five years after its passage, the English proficiency of limited-English students tripled. And, not coincidentally, the math scores of the English-immersion students rose. It demonstrably helped students.

• Category: English in the Schools • Tags: Notable