Bilingual-ed foe speaks out

Decries lack of federal action

Ron Unz, a California millionaire who led successful ballot campaigns to dismantle bilingual education in Arizona and California, said Thursday that he is amazed that an effort to end bilingual education on a national level hasn’t caught the interest of federal lawmakers.

“Absolutely nothing has happened,” Unz said.

Democrats in Washington lack the will, he said, while the Republicans “are too scared” to touch the issue.

Unz was in Phoenix speaking to reporters attending the National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention.

“Here is one thing I don’t understand,” Unz added. “It’s incredibly hard to get politicians to do something that is right but unpopular. What is incredibly amazing to me is that they haven’t taken up an issue that is right and popular.”

After victories in Arizona and California, Unz has turned his attention to Colorado. On Monday, Unz and his supporters announced that they had begun the process for placing an initiative on the November 2002 ballot in Colorado. Like the Arizona and California initiatives, the Colorado proposal would require public schools to replace bilingual education programs with an English immersion curriculum.

Bilingual education programs teach students in their native language as they gradually learn English. But opponents such as Unz say the programs are mostly a failure.

California voters approved an anti-bilingual education ballot initiative bankrolled by Unz in 1998. Arizona voters approved a similar initiative in November. Unz, a software developer, also funded it.

The new law takes effect with the new school year. School districts will be required to abandon bilingual education programs and teach students not fluent in English almost exclusively in English. Critics maintain that amounts to a “one-size-fits-all approach.”

Mickey Ibarra, a representative of the National Education Association, said the fact that a federal effort to end bilingual education hasn’t materialized is evidence the anti-bilingual education movement is “running out of steam.”

Ibarra also was at the conference.

“I do believe that this issue has a relatively short shelf life and is rapidly being overcome by the belief that it is time for America to raise its linguistic standard,” said Ibarra, former director of intergovernmental affairs at the White House under President Clinton. “Speaking two languages ought to be the minimum standard, not the exception.”

On the other hand, Ibarra said, the anti-bilingual education victories in Arizona and California have underscored the need for bilingual education reforms on the national level.

“The positive outcome has been that it has forced those who teach English to students learning English to re-examine what they are doing,” Ibarra said.
“To raise the standard of bilingual education you set measurable standards and hold teachers to those standards.”
Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8312.

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